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COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY GERMANIC STUDIES 
Vol. I. No. III. 



THE INFLUENCE 



OF 



OLD NORSE LITERATURE 



UPON 



ENGLISH LITERATURE 



CONRAD HJALMAR NORDBY 



ThIe COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS 

The Macmillan Company, Agbnts 

66 fifth avenue 

I90I 




Cornell University 
Library 



The original of this book is in 
the Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 



http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924013348036 



COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY GERMANIC STUDIES 
Vol. I. No. III. 



THE INFLUENCE 



OF 



OLD NORSE LITERATURE 



UPON 



ENGLISH' LITERATURE 



CONRAD HJALMAR NORDBY 



THE COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS 

The Macmillan Company, Agents 

66 fifth avenue 

I90I 

T 




^.\o^^7«* 



PHESS OF 

THE NEW ERA PRINTINC3 COMPANY, 
LANCASTER, PA. 



Deyr i6 

deyja fraendr, 

deyr sidlfr it sama ; 

en orSstfrr 

deyr aldrigi 

hveim er sdr g<5San getr. 

I/dvamdl, 75. 

Cattle die, 

kindred die, 

we ours elves also die ; 

but the fair fame 

never dies 

of him who has earned it. 

Thorpe's Edda. 



Ill 



PREFATORY NOTE. 

The present publication is the only literary work left by its 
author. Unfortunately it lacks a few pages which, as his manu- 
script shows, he intended to add, and it also failed to receive his 
final revision. His friends have nevertheless deemed it expedi- 
ent to publish the result of his studies conducted with so much 
ardor, in order that some memorial of his life and work shovUd 
remain for the wider public. To those acquainted with him, no 
written ^vords can represent the charm of his personality or give 
anything approaching an adequate impression of his ability and 
strength of character. 

Conrad Hjalmar Nordby was born September 20, 1867, at 
Christiania, Norway. At the age of four he was brought to 
New York, where he was educated in the public schools. He 
was graduated from the College of the City of New York in 
1886. From December of that year to June, 1893, he taught in 
Grammar School No. 55, and in September, 1893, he was called 
to his Alma Mater as Tutor in English. He was promoted to 
the rank of Instructor in 1897, a position which he held at the 
time of his death. He died in St. Luke's Hospital, October 28, 
1900. In October, 1894, he began his studies in the School of 
Philosophy of Columbia University, taking courses in Philosoph}- 
and Education under Professor Nicholas Murray Butler, and in 
Germanic Literatures and Germanic Philology under Profes- 
sors Boyesen, William H. Carpenter and Calvin Thomas. It 
was under the guidance of Professor Carpenter that the present 
work was conceived and executed. 

Such a brief outline of Mr. Nordby's career can, however, 
give but an imperfect view of his activities, while it gives none 
at all of his influence. He was a teacher who impressed his per- 
sonality, not only upon his students, but upon all who knew him. 
In his character were united force and refinement, firmness and 
geniality. In his earnest work with his pupils, in his lectures to 



jjaoAV stq jjoo; oqM i snouiouipouBS .laAau ^nq ';s3uji;3 ! 33sj.rei[j[ 
ou ;nq '4i]Si.idn i Suiao]^ puB 4sn[ '}3aA\s puv Suoj}s 'sAijjq pui3 
apugS aouo ^b i ubuioav 13 si; sj]\ uj a.ind si? i p\o jo 5qSiuj[ jCub 
SB papuiui-qSiq puB snoajBAup SB ! sXbav jsauoq puB sraiB s|diUTS 
JO iiBui B 1 msBTsnipua poB j(4I|B4ia 'aojoj pajsiiBijxaun jiaq; {jb 
qiiAv '3|doad aqj jo uBiu 2uno/i y •^qpjojsj; jbiu][b.[jj pBjuoQ jo 
;Bq; UBip j3;oBJBip 3|qi3JimpB ajoai on pug p^noo j J[uiij4 j 'qjnoif 
UB0IJ3UIY aq; ui a^qBAO^ jsom puB ;saq si 4biia\. jo adjfj b i(oq 
/(ra ajojaq jas 04 paqsiAv I Jl,, : presjfj;sn[ sttXBpy UBUiap^ ^^o[ 
•A9"y^ aq; 'Supaaui puoraam b 4b paounouojd asjnoosip b nj 

•apqAv. ptiB pa.ia;uao-jps 'ubui b sbav ajaq 4Bq; azmSooaj 
oj yfsBa SBAV 4j uouBaraap Suuijaj ^somjB puB apuaS siq pujq 
-aq Av\ v^^} -lapBJBqo jo ao.ioj aq; Suipaj ;noq;iA4. mtq ^aui jaAa 
Avaj 4ai{ piiB 'aopou oqqnd SuipuBuiap puB pjBAVjoj jpsuiiq Siii 
-qsnd raojj sSuup ^b aAoqB Jjunjqs ajj "q^Suaj^s siq papaouoo 
jaAau vfisapoLU siq jBqj uosBaj siq4 .loj sbav 4j -ubuj aq; jo ajij 
ptiB ja^OBjBqa ajpna aqj uodn ;nq ';nauiqoBajd Aiw uo 40U '||b 
9AoqB puB 'pa.ia44n p.ioAV |Bpads Aus uo 40u 'spuadap qoiqM ;j[os 
aAisBAjad 4Bq5 jo X!pSjB^ sbav 'pBj ui 'aouanyui sifj '^n uiojj 
paiBUBUia X|iBnui;uoo qaiqAV uoijBAap puB ^jund auiosajoqAV 
JO pa^a aq; aanpojd oj pauiquioo jjb puB i ajn4Bja;q jo aAOj 
siq; paojojup.i puB paiUBduioooB ;j:b jo puB ajn;Bu jo aAoj y 

•aoi;BSj[aAuo3 jo auiaq; b aq p^noo 
smuaS aAi;Bajo jo sjjjoav aaaqAV jCuBduioo jfjaAa ut aojoj ib;ia 
B luiq pa.iapua.i 'uiiq ;noqB asoq; o; pa;BOiunrauioo 'uiSBisnq;ua 
uB qong •ajn;Bja;i| ut ;saq pa.iapisuoo aq ;Bq; {jb .loj Suipaj stq 
JO i[Boidi(; SI ^Bssa ;uasa.id aq; ui pajfBidsip sujop\[ iubi^ji^ .loj 
uiSBisnq;ua aqx •s;uids j[a;sBm jo poojq ajq aq; q;iAV pa;B;id|Bd 
i£aq; i sSuiq; pBap ;ou ajaAV Xaq; uiiq oj, 'ssiooq jo jaAoi anj; 
B uaaq pBq aq q;noj{ X!{jBa raojj; -jaqou uaAa saiaas 'pa;qStiq 
j{puii;un OS 'astuio.id aq; 'diqsjBjoqos jo ppoAv aq; ui auop aABq 
;qSim aq ';uauidtnba aS.iB| stq q;iAV ';BqAV japtsuoo aAV uaqAV 
;nq 'juauiaAaiqoB ui qou 'paapui 'sbav jaa.iBO siq pjBSaj siq; uj 

■saAq Jpq; tuojj paqsiuBA pBq pjptiBaq puB ajqou Sutq;aiuos 
;Bq; ;pj uiiq uaaou5[ pBq oqAV jp '. spuauj a;Buii;ui Avaj b o; pauy 
-uoo ;ou SBAV jaxjS aq; 'babjS aq; o; paujBO sbav ifpoq siq uaq^ 
•ajq JO puB i(j;aod jo q;oq 'i;nBaq joj a;SB; aq; pBajds aq ';oB;uoa 
UI auJBD aq uioqAV q;iAV qB uodn aouahyui jBUOSjad stq ut 'saoua 
-ipuB jaq;o o; puB spoqag ajH".! ^^°A "^ ^N ^H^ P s.iaqoBa; aq; 

TA 



Vll 

as a pleasure, and his pleasure as an innocent joy ; a friend to be 
coveted ; a disciple such as the Saviour must have loved ; a true 
son of God, who dwrelt in the Father's house. Of such youth 
our land may well be proud ; and no man need speak despair- 
ingly of a nation whose life and institutions can ripen such a 
fruit." L. F. M. 

College of the City of New York, 
May 15, 1901. 



INTRODUCTORY. 

It should not be hard for the general reader to understand that 
the influence which is the theme of this dissertation is real and 
explicable. If he will but call the roll of his favorite heroes, he 
will find Sigurd there. In his gallery of wondrous women, 
he certainly cherishes Brynhild. These poetic creations belong 
to the English-speaking race, because they belong to the world. 
And if one will but recall the close kinship of the Icelandic and 
the Anglo-Saxon languages, he will not find it strange that the 
spirit of the old Norse sagas lives again in our English song and 
story. 

The survey that this essay takes begins with Thomas Gray 
(1716-1771), and comes down to the present day. It finds the 
fullest measure of the old Norse poetic spirit in William Morris 
(1834— 1896), and an increasing interest and delight in it as we 
come toward our own time. The enterprise of learned societies 
and enlightened book publishers has spread a knowledge of Ice- 
landic literature among the reading classes of the present day ; 
but the taste for it is not to be accounted for in the same way. 
That is of nobler birth than of erudition or commercial pride. 
Is it not another expression of that changed feeling for the things 
that pertain to the common people, which distinguishes our cen- 
tury from the last .'' The historian no longer limits his study to 
camp and court ; the poet deigns to leave the drawing-room and 
library for humbler scenes. Folk-lore is now dignified into a 
science. The touch of nature has made the whole world kin, 
and our highly civilized century is moved by the records of the 
passions of the earlier society. 

This change in taste was long in coming, and the emotional 

phase of it has preceded the intellectual. It is interesting to note 

that Gray and Morris both failed to carry their public with them 

-all the way. Gray, the most cultured man of his time, produced 

art forms totally different from those in vogue, and Walpole ^ said 

' Quoted in Gray, by E. W. Gosse, English Men of Letters, p. 163. 



•iqSnom 
JO sapuapua; iiiB^jaa puB 'Xep jno jo s.ia}i.TAV aiqujapisuoo hib} 
-.133 .loj ;unooot3 jCbui ^eq^ uopuuuojut jo uoissassod ut aq \\\ii{S 
aAV 'paqsmif si p.Tooa.i aq; uaq^ -iBssa ;uas3jd aq; jo uoissim 
-luoD aq; a.re asaqj, •pa;ou arqBA Ajvism .iiaq; puB 'dn pajunoo 
aq A-Bui suoi;nqu;uoo aq; ;nq 'j^bs o; Asva ;ou sx ;t SBja ja;B| asaq; 
uuoj o; padpq sBq ajn;Baa;q as,ioj\j p^Q 3^1 J^J avojj "auiBS 
aq; aq p^noM: poq;aut aq; puB 'uBq;aqBzqg[ aq; aoj SB |pAV SB SBja 
.ia;Bi .loj ;unoooB o; aABq p^noAv aq '^Bp-o; Xio;siq siq Sui;i.ia\. uo; 
-.iB^ a-ia^VV „"U-iaq; paujaAoS jC^snoiAajd psq qoiqAv savbj aq; ui 
uoprqoAaj ^b;o; b ;oajja o; paotTpoj;ui ;i saSuBqo aq; Xq puB 'a.in; 
-Bja;i^ puB aouaps o; sn;aduii Avau b aAiS o; sbav '^;inbi;uB pais 
-SBp JO Xpn;s aq; o; puim UBumq aq; Supoajip 4q. 'qoiqAV 'bjsb 
;Bq; jo UAVBp aq; ijjiBiu o; puB i auT0"y^ puB aoaajQ jo suoi;onp 
-o.id paqsipd ajouT aq; uiojj 'uot;b;iujt xo uoi;bisub.i; jo adBqs aq; 
UI 'suoqismboB aAissaoons aq; aapou o; aouB;.iodinT jo sbm;j,, 
: (Si -d) „j(.T;aoj qsi^Sug jo X!.io;sij-j ,, s,uo;.ib^\ jo uopipa ■bzgi 
aq; o; aoBjaj^j s.aoijj p.iBqa;'^ ui asod.ind ;uasajd jno jo uoi;bo 
-ijpsnf B puB uoissajdxa ub pug a^ -Xiqajaq; paSuBqo X!i|Bi.ia;Bui 
SBAA. ajn;-BU s;i ;Bq; .10 's;uamap as.iojvj pjQ Jo uoi;onpoj[;ui aq; £q 
spuuBqo AAau o;ui pa;.iaAip sbm ajn;B.ia;q qsqSug jo asjnoo aq; 
;Bq; aAOjd o; aj[B;japun ;ou \\im. aaded siqj, •ai;i;-;oa[qns aq; 
UI pasn SI ;i sb ./aouanyuj,, pjoA^ aq; jo uopBUBjdxa ub ;noq;iAV 
'.laAa.woq ';ja^ aq ;ou ;snai sp.ioA\. Xjo;onpoj;ui asaqx 'padopA 
-ap SI i^BSsa siq; sb piBS aq \\ia^ ajoui a;sB; jo aSuBqo siq; jq 

■uosiluuax JO qjBap aq; uo pjuBf aq; 
uib;;b o; pa-[iBj puB^Sug ui ;aod ;saq aq; puB 'pauiaa;sa ^iqSiq 
OS ;ou SBM sijjo]^ tuBin;^ jo ;jb aq; .ia;jBa.iaqx -uauiqsqSua 
o; uijojaj i^pos paqoBajd aq n;un 'jpoAV ;.ib siq aoj asiB.id 
JO ;(;ua][d punoj 'ami; siq jo ubui a^pBSjaA ;soui aq; 'sujoj\[ 

«(iIPH s.uxpo "I iftuaua ub jo jp^is aq; jo ;no a^B Suizooq 
JO X;ioipj auiajdns aq; — aApouoa ppoo iaq; sauojS puB sXof 
aq; ip ;b paAU.iB aS^ABS oxun-a; b s.io.uoq ;Bq.AV qSnojq; ajBO ubo 
OHAV ■ ■ ■ "uoissBd Auv qono; 'suiaod jaq;o siq a>[q ';ou op puB 
'gui;saja;ui ;ou ajB vfaq; • • • sap^ puB iBA\.iojsj uiojj sapo 
;uaiouB aa jq; suiaod siq o; pappB SBq Xb-IQ ,, : suuoj asaq; jo 



CONTENTS. 

PAGE 

Prefatory Note v 

Introductory ix 

I. The Body of Old Norse Literature i 

II. Through the Medium of Latin 3 

Thomas Gray 3 

The Sources of Gray's Knowledge ,5 

Sir William Temple 8 

George Hickes 10 

Thomas Percy .' 11 

Thomas Warton 14 

Drake and Mathias 16 

Cottle and Herbert 18 

Walter Scott 20 

III. From the Sources Themselves 23 

Richard Cleasby 24 

Thomas Carlyle 24 

Samuel Laing 26 

Longfellow and Lowell 28 

Matthew Arnold 30 

George Webbe Dasent 32 

-Charles Kingsley 33 

Edmunjd Gosse 35 

IV. By the Hand of the Master 37 

William Morris' works 37 

". t 38 

" 2 39 

" 3 47 

" 4 49 

" S 68 

" 6 69 

" 7 7° 

" 8 70 

V. In the Latter Days 74 

Echoes of Iceland in Later Poets 74 

Recent Translations 76 



I. 

THE BODY OF OLD NORSE LITERATURE. 

First, let us understand what the Old Norse literature was that 
has been sending out this constantly increasing influence into the 
world of poetry. 

It was in the last four decades of the ninth century of our era 
that Norsemen began to leave their own country and set up new 
homes in Iceland. The sixty years ending w^ith 930 A.D. were 
devoted to taking up the land, and the hundred years that ensued 
after that date were devoted to quarreling about that land. These 
quarrels were the origin of the Icelandic family sagas. The year 
1000 brought Christianity to the island, and the period from 1030 
to 1 1 20 were ^ears of peace in which stories of the former time 
passed from mouth to mouth. The next century saw these 
stories take written form, and the period from 1220 to 1260 was 
the golden age of this literature. In 1 264, Iceland passed under 
the rule of Norway, and a decline of literature began, extending 
until 1400, the end of literary production in Iceland. In the 
main, the authors of Iceland are unknown.' 

There are several well-marked periods, therefore,' in Icelandic 
literary production. The earliest was devoted to poetry, Ice- 
landic being no different from most other languages in the pre- 
cedence of that form. Before the settlement of Iceland, the 
Norse lands were acquainted with songs about gods and cham- 
pions, w^ritten in a simple verse form. The first settlers wrote 
down some of these, and forgot others. In the Codex Regius^ 
preserved in the Royal Library in Copenhagen, we have a col- 
lection of these songs. This material was published in the 
seventeeth century as the Scemundar JSdda, and came to be 
known as the Elder or Poetic Edda. Both titles are misnomers, 
for Ssemund had nothing to do with the making of the book, and 
Edda is a name belonging to a book of later date and different 
purpose. 

'B. Hoff. Hovedpunkter af den Oldislandske litteratur-historie. 
K^benhavn. 1873. 

1 



■sSupuAv. 
JO jfpoq ^Bq; jo sifjoM. aq; Suipjooaj o; pajoAap 3.re vomuvfMgr 
vjp30<fo2DiCou^ aq; jo uopipa q^uiu aq^ jo snmrqoo uaAaja jBq; ;oi3j 
aq; SuLiapisuoo R.(\ pauiujqo si iBq; jo Bapi uy ■ajn;i3.ia}ii asjojvj 
PIO JO jfipuBnb aq:( a;Boipux oj pua;ajd ;ou saop qo^aj^s siqj, 

•Sjaq:jo puB '■^ooff 
/Cafn^^ aq^ ^uosvaSM^x fi'lO fi vSv^ aq^ '■vjFmu^suipjj- puy 
aAV qoiqM ui 'sbSbq ,sSuig- aq; si sbSbs ouo^siq aq; jo qouBjq y 
•vSvs' S2vfj^ '■vSvg stffauJT) '•vSvs vja^pxv^ 'vSvg vfSS/CqA/Cg; 
^vSvg sit3^ 'aidiuT3xa joj 'puy aAV 'oZzi-oozi sbav qoiqAV jo auii; 
SnuaAvoy aq; 'dnojS iBouo;siq aq;ux ■»J'»5' s^p^q^cj ^vuSv^ 
puB »^275' sfpfyfQ.t^^ ^vSvg AVAvn.d9ff aq; '^i'ii^-. vSunsjOj^^ 
aq; 's.iaq;o Suouib 'ajB dnciS poiq;^ui aqj uj qBouoisiq puB 
IBDiq^/ftti qjoq ajB ^aqj, •amp j(u«o;s s^puBjaoj ui un.i sjaajBO 
uodn pasBq ajaAv sb3bs aq^ 'ptBS aABq aAV. sy 'sainj paxg o; 
SuipjoooB p|o; 'o.iaq b jo ajij aq; spjooa.i -\\ 'saujunoo as-iojvj; aq; 
JO Dpsi.TapB.reqo 'otda asojd b si bSbs aqj, -svSvg aq; Xjppadsa 
'a.iniBj[aiii siq; jo asojd aq; s; j(j;aod aq; uBq; ajqBnpA ajoj^ 

•vppg[ 3soAj^ JO uaSunoj^ aqj sb o; pajjaj 
-a.i ua;jo ptiB '■vpp^ ayj; pappua 'sopaod asjojsj piQ uo j[joa\. 
SjUOsrqjnjg ujoug ui punoj si qou jfaaA si jBq; jBuajBui opaoj 

■dnojS siqj 
JO ajB jbaSjs puB ajuidsBpifjjs puiAiCg 'sapmbpuB qojoog puB 
qsijSug; jo sjapBaj j|b o; uAvoujf 'uossuiuSBipsig iJiSg -sbSbs 
ja;B{ UI uAYop ua5}uA\ ajaAV saAi| jiaq; asnBoaq 'aiueu Xq sn 04 
UAA.ou3( ajB sppj(s aqi jo A\aj y qBua^Bui jBouo^siq q^iAV auios 
puB '|Bua;BUi poiq;X!ui qjiAv sjBap stq; jo auiog <,"3!P1«JIS n 
pajIBO }Bq; si ajn}B.Ta}i| ;uaiDUB siq; ui X.i;aod jo ssBp puooas y 
•ajaq os|b ajB suuoj ^saqaBa Jiaq4 ui suiaod Suns(0^ aqj puB 

suiaod iSpH 3qx 'ROT P"^ •'nppa P"^ "iPO J° IF' '^H' sSuos 
jaqio puB 'uopoa^joD siqj ui ajB ^vuevavj/ puB vfsnioyi -spuaSa^ 
oiojaq asjojsj p^Q P P"^ 'jfSoioq;^ui asjojsj piQ Jo pBaq uiBjunoj 
aq; si — a.iB sSuos-jqoj sb jios aq; jo pnpoad b }ou — jjjioav siqj. 



II. 

THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF LATIN. 
Thomas Gray (1716-1771). 

In the eighteenth century, Old Norse literature was the lore of 
antiquarians. That it is not so to-day among English readers is 
due to a line of writers, first of whom was Thomas Gray. In 
the thin volume of his poetry, two pieces bear the sub-title : 
" An Ode. From the Norse Tongue." These are " The Fatal 
Sisters," and "The Descent of Odin," both written in 1761, 
though not published until 1768. These poems are among the 
latest that Gray gave to the world, and are interesting aside from 
our present purpose because they mark the limit of Gray's pro- 
gress toward Romanticism. 

We are not accustomed to think of Gray as a Romantic poet, 
although w^e know well that the movement away from the so- 
called Classicism was begun long before he died. The Romantic 
element in his poetry is not obvious ; only the close observer de- 
tects it, and then only in a few of the poems. The Pindaric 
odes exhibit a treatment that is Romantic, and the Norse and 
Welsh adaptations are on subjects that are Romantic. But we 
must go to his letters to find proof positive of his sympathy with 
the breaking aw^ay from Classicism. Here are records of a love 
of outdoors that reveled in mountain-climbing and the buffeting 
of storms. Here are appreciations of Shakespeare and of Milton, 
the like of w^hich were not often proclaimed in his generation. 
Here is ecstatic admiration of ballads and of the Ossian imita- 
tions, all so unfashionable in the literary culture of the day. 
While dates disprove Lowell's statement in his essay on Gray 
that "those anti-classical yearnings of Gray began after he had 
ceased producing," it is certain that very little of his poetic work 
expressed these yearnings. "Elegance, sweetness, pathos, or 
even majesty he could achieve, but never that force which vi- 
brates in every verse of larger moulded men." Change Lowell's 
word "could" to " did," and this sentence will serve our pur- 
pose here. 3 



Our interest in Gray's Romanticism must confine itself to the 
two odes from the Old Norse. It is to be noted that the first 
transplanting to English poetry of Old Norse song came about 
through the scholar's agency, not the poet's. It was Gray, the 
scholar, that made "The Descent of Odin" and "The Fatal 
Sisters." They were intended to serve as specimens of a for- 
gotten literature in a history of English poetry. In the "Adver- 
tisement "to " The Fatal Sisters " he tells how he ca.m6 to give 
up the plan: "The Author has long since drop'd his design, 
especially after he heard, that it was already in the hands of a 
Person well qualified to do it justice, both by his taste, and his 
researches into antiquity." Thomas Warton's History of Eng- 
lish Poetry was the execution of this design, but in that book no 
place was found for these poems. 

In his absurd Life of Gray, Dr. Johnson said : " His trans- 
lations of Northern and Welsh Poetry deserve praise : the imagery 
is preserved, perhaps often improved, but the language is unlike 
the language of other poets." There are more correct statements 
in this sentence, perhaps, than in any other in the essay, but this 
is because ignorance sometimes hits the truth. It is not likely 
that the poems would have been understood without the preface 
and the explanatory notes, and these, in a measure, made the 
reader interested in the literature from which they were draw^n. 
Gray called the pieces " dreadful songs," and so in very truth 
they are. Strength is the dominant note, rude, barbaric strength, 
and only the art of Gray saved it from condemnation. To-day, 
with so many imitations froin Old Norse to draw upon, -we can- 
not point to a single poem which preserves spirit and form as 
well as those of Gray. Take the stanza : 

Horror covers all the heath, 

Clouds of carnage blot the sun, 
Sisters, weave the web of death ; 

Sisters, cease, the work is done. 

The strophe is perfect in every detail. Short lines, each end- 
ing a sentence ; alliteration ; words that echo the sense, and iust 
four strokes to paint a picture which has an atmosphere that 
whisks you into its own world incontinently. It is no wonder 
that writers of later days who have tried similar imitations ascribe 
to Thomas Gray the mastership. 



That this poet of the eighteenth century, who " equally de- 
spised what was Greek and what was Gothic," should have entered 
so fully into the spirit and letter of Old Norse poetry is little 
short of marvelous. If Professor G. L. Kittredge had not gone 
so minutely into the question of Gray's knowledge of Old Norse,' 
we might be pardoned for still believing with Gosse '' that the poet 
learned Icelandic in his later life. Even after reading Professor 
Kittredge's essay, we cannot understand how Gray could catch 
the metrical lilt of the Old Norse with only a Latin version to 
transliterate the parallel Icelandic. We suspect that Gray's 
knowledge was fuller than Professor Kittredge will allow, al- 
though we must admit that superficial knowledge may coexist 
with a fine interpretative spirit. Matthew Arnold's knowledge 
of Celtic literature was meagre, yet he wrote memorably and 
beautifully on that subject, as Celts themselves will acknowledge.' 

The Sources of Gray's Knowledge. 
It has already been said that only antiquarians had knowledge 
of things Icelandic in Gray's time. Most of this knowledge was 
in Latin, of course, in ponderous tomes with wonderful, long 
titles ; and the list of them is awe-inspiring. In all likelihood 
Gray did not use them all, but he met references to them in the 
books he did consult. Professor Kittredge mentions them in the 
paper already quoted, but they are here arranged in the order of 
publication, and the list is lengthened to include some books that 
were inspired by the interest in Gray's experiments. 

1636 and 1651. Wormius. Seu Danica literatura antiquis- 
sima, vulgo Gothica dicta, luci reddita opera Olai 
Wormii. Cut accessit de prisca Danorum Poesi Disser- 
tatio. Hafniae. 1636. Edit. II. 165 1. 

The essay on poetry contains interlinear Latin transla- 
tions of the Epicedium of Ragnar Loi5br6k, and of the 
Drapa of Egill Skallagrfmsson. Bound with the second 
edition of 165 1, and bearing the date 1650, is: Specimen 
Lexici runici, obscuriorum quarundam vocum, quce in 

' Pp. xli-1 in Selections from the Poetry and Prose of Thomas Gray, 
edited by W. L. Phelps. Ginn & Co., Boston. 1894. 

'Life of Gray, pp. 160 ff. 

'Wm. Sharp in Lyra Celtica, p. xx. Patrick Geddes and Colleagues. 
Edinburgh. 1896. 



friscis occurrunt historiis et poetis Danicis enodattonem 
exhibens. Collectum a Magna Olavio pastore Laufasi- 
ensi, . . . nunc in ordinem redactum, aucium et locufle- 
tatum ab Olao Wormio. Hafnise. 

This glossary adduces illustrations from the great poems 
of Icelandic literature. Thus early the names and forms 
of the ancient literature were known- 

1665. Resenius. Edda Islandorum an. Chr. MCCXV 
islandice conscrtpta per Snorronem Sturlce IslandicB. 
Nomophylacem nunc primum islandice., danice et latine 
. . . Petri Johannis Resenii . . . Havniffi. 1665. 

A second part contains a disquisition on the philosophy 
of the Voluspa and the Hdvamal. 

1670. Sheringham. De Anglorum Gentis Origine Discep- 
tatio. ^ua eorum migrationes, varice sedes, et ex parte 
res gestce., a confusione Linguarum., et dispersione Gen- 
tium., usque ad adventum eorum in Britanniam itivesti- 
gantur ; qucedam de veterufn Anglorum religione, 
Deorum cultu, eorumque opinionibus de statu animcB 
post hanc vitam, explicantur. Authore Roberto Sher- 
inghamo.- Cantabrigise. 1670. 

Chapter XII contains an account of Odin extracted from 
the Edda., Snorri Sturluson and others. 

1679-92. Temple. Two essays: "Of Heroic Virtue," "Of 
Poetry," contained in The Works of Sir William Temple. 
London. 1757. Vol. 3, pp. 304-429. 

1689. Bartholinus. Thom-ce Bartholini Antiquitatum Dani- 
carum de causis contem.ptce a Danis adhuc gentilibus 
mortis libri III ex vetustis codicibus et tnonumentis hac- 
tenus ineditis congestce. Hafnise. 1689. 

The pages of this book are filled with extracts from Old 
Norse sagas and poetry which are translated into Latin. No 
student of the book could fail to get a considerable knowl- 
edge of the spirit and the form of the ancient literature. 

1691. Verelius. Index Ungues veteris Scytho-Scandicce sive 
GothiccB ex vetusti avi monumentis . . . ed Rudbeck. 
Upsalse. 169 1. 



i697' Torfffius. Orcades, seu rerum Orcadensium historice. 
Havniae. 1697. 

1697. Perinskjold. Heimskringla, eller Snorre Sturlusons 
Nordlandske Konunga Sagor. Stockholmite. 1697. 
Contains Latin and Swedish translation. 

1705' Hickes. Linguarum Vett . Seftentrionalium. thesaurus 
grammatico criticus et archcBologicus. Oxonise. 1703-5. 
This ■work is discussed later. 

1716. Dryden. Miscellany Poems. Containing Variety of 
JVe-w Translations of the Ancient Poets. . . . Pub- 
lished by Mr. Dryden. London. 1716. 

1720. Keysler. Antiquitates selectee seftentrionales et Cel- 
ticce quibus -plurima loca conciliorum et capitularium ex- 
planantur, dogmata theologies ethnicce Celtarum gentium- 
que septentrionalium cum moribus et institutis maiorum 
nostrorum. circa idola, aras, oracula, templa, lucos, sacer- 
dotes, regum electiones, comitia et m.onumenta sepulchralia 
una cum reliquiis gentilismi in coetibus christianorum, 
ex monumentis potissimum hactenus ineditis fuse perqui- 
runtur. Autore Joh. Georgio Keysler. Hannoverae. 
1720. 

1755. Mallet. Introduction a V Histoire de Dannemarc ou 
I'on traite de la Religion., des Lois, des Mmurs, et des 
Usages des Anciens Danois. Par M. Mallet. Copen- 
hague. 1755. 

Discussed later. 

1756. Mallet. Monumens de la Mythologie et la Poesie des 
Celtes et particulierement des anciens Scandinaves . . . 
Par M. Mallet. Copenhague. 1756. 

1763. Percy. Five Pieces of Runic Poetry translated from, 
the Islandic Language. London. 1763- 
This book is described on a later page. 

1763. Blair. A Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian, 
the Son of Fingal . [By Hugh Blair. J London. 1763. 

1770. Percy. Northern Antiquities : or a description of the 
Manners, Customs, Religion and Laws of the ancient 



Danes, and other Northern Nations ,■ including these of 
our own Saxon Ancestors. With a translation of the 
Bdda or System of Runic Mythology, and other Pieces 
from the Ancient Icelandic Tongue. Translated from 
M. Mallet's Introduction a I'Histoire de Dannemarc. 
London. 1770. 

1774. Warton. The History of English Poetry. By 
Thomas Warton. London. 1774-81. 

In this book the prefatory essay entitled " On the Origin 
of Romantic Fiction in Europe " is significant. It is treated 
at length later on. 

Sir William Temple (1628-1699). 

From the above list it appears that the earliest mention in the 
English language of Icelandic literature was Sir William Tem- 
ple's. The two essays noted above have many references to 
Northern customs and songs. Macaulay's praise of Temple's 
style is well deserved, and the slighting remarks about the matter 
do not apply to the passages in evidence here. Temple's 
acknowledgments to Wormius indicate the source of his informa- 
tion, and it is .a commentary upon the exactness of the anti- 
quarian's knowledge that so many of the statements in Temple's 
essays are perfectly good to-day. Of course the terms " Runic " 
and " Gothic" were misused, but so were they a century later. 
Odin is " the first and great hero of the western Scythians; he 
led a mighty swarm of the Getes, under the name of Goths, from 
the Asiatic Scythia into the farthest northwest parts of Europe ; 
he seated and spread his kingdom round the whole Baltic sea, 
and over all the islands in it, and extended it westward to the 
ocean and southward to the Elve." ^ Temple places Odin's expe- 
dition at two thousand years before his own time, but he gets 
many other facts right. Take this summing up of the old Norse 
belief as an example : 

' ' An opinion was fixed and general among them, that death 
was but the entrance into another life ; that all men who lived 
lazy and inactive lives, and died natural deaths, by sickness, or 

iQf Heroic Virtue, p. 355, Vol. Ill of Sir William Temple's Works. 
London. 1770. 



by age, went into vast caves under ground, all dark and miry, 
full of noisom creatures, usual in such places, and there forever 
grovelled in endless stench and misery. On the contrary, all 
who gave themselves to warlike actions and enterprises, to the 
conquests of their neighbors, and slaughters of enemies, and 
died in battle, or of violent deaths upon bold adventures or resolu- 
tions, they went immediately to the vast hall or palace of Odin, 
their god of war, who eternally kept open house for all such 
guests, where they were entertained at infinite tables, in per- 
petual feasts and mirth, carousing every man in bowls made of 
the skulls of their enemies they had slain, according to which 
numbers, every one in these mansions of pleasure was the most 
honoured and the best entertained." ^ 

Thus before Gray was born. Temple had written intelligently 
in English of the salient features of the Old Norse mythology. 
Later in the same essay, he recognized that some of the civil and 
political procedures of his country were traceable to the North- 
men, and, what is more to our immediate purpose, he recognized 
the poetic value of Old Norse song. On p. 358 occurs this 
paragraph : 

"I am deceived, if in this sonnet (two stanzas of ' Regner 
Lodbrog'), and a following ode of Scallogrim there be not a vein 
truly poetical, and in its kind Pindaric, taking it with the allow- 
ance of the different climates, fashions, opinions, and languages 
of such distant countries." 

Temple certainly had no knowledge of Old Norse, and yet, in 
1679, he could write so of a poem which he had to read through 
the Latin. Sir William had a wide knowledge and a fine ap- 
preciation of literature, and an enthusiasm for its dissemination. 
He takes evident delight in telling the fact that princes and kings 
of the olden time did high honor to bards. He regrets that 
classic culture was snuffed out by a barbarous people, but he re- 
joices that a new kind came to take its place. "Some of it 
wanted not the true spirit of poetry in some degree, or that natural 
inspiration which has been said to arise from some spark of 
poetical fire wherewith particular men are born ; and such as it 
was, it served the turn, not only to please, but even to charm, the 
ignorant and barbarous vulgar, where it was in use." ^ 

' Of Heroic Virtue, p. 356. 
2 Of Poetry, p. 416. 



10 

It is proverbial that music hath charms to soothe the savage 
breast. That savage music charms cultivated minds is not pro- 
verbial, but it is nevertheless true. Here is Sir William Temple, 
scion of a cultured race, bearing witness to the fact, and here is 
Gray, a life-long dweller in a staid English university, endorsing 
it a half century later. As has been intimated, this was unusual 
in the time in which they lived, when, in Lowell's phrase, the 
' ' blight of propriety " was on all poetry. But it was only the 
rude and savage in an unfamiliar literature that could give pause 
in the age of Pope. The milder aspects of Old Norse song and 
saga must await the stronger century to give them favor. ' ' Be- 
hold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcass of 
the lion." 

George Hickes (1642-1715). 

The next book in the list that contains an English contribution 
to the knowledge of our subject is the Thesaurus of George 
Hickes. On p. 193 of Part I, there is a prose translation of 
"The Awakening of Angantyr," from the Harvarar Saga. 
Acknowledgment is given to Verelius for the text of the poem, 
but Hickes seems to have chosen this poem as "the gem of the 
Saga. The translation is another proof of an antiquarian's taste 
and judgment, and the reader does not wonder that it soon found 
a wider audience through another publication. It vi^as reprinted 
in the books of 17 16 and 1770 in the above list. An extract or 
two will show that the vigor of the old poem has not been al- 
together lost in the translation : 

Hervor. — Awake Angantyr, Hervor the only daughter of 
thee and Suafu doth awaken thee. Give me out of the tombe, 
the hardned ' sword, which the dwarfs made for Suafurlama. 
Hervardur, Hiorvardur, Hrani, and Angantyr, with helmet, and 
coat of mail, and a sharp sword, with sheild and accoutrements, 
and bloody spear, I wake you all, under the roots of trees. Are 
the sons of Andgrym, who delighted in mischief, now become 
dust and ashes, can none of Eyvors sons now speak with me out 
of the habitations of the dead ! Harvardur, Hiorvardur ! so may 
you all be within your ribs, as a thing that is hanged up to putri- 
fie among insects, unlesse you deliver me the sword which the 
dwarfs made . . . and the glorious belt. 

^ Spelling and punctuation are as in the original. 



11 

Angantyr. — Daughter Hervor, full of spells to raise the dead, 
why dost thou call so? wilt thou run on to thy own mischief? 
thou art mad, and out of thy senses, who art desperatly re- 
solved to waken dead men. I was not buried either by father or 
other freinds. Two which lived after me got Tirfing, one of 
whome is now possessor thereof. 

Hervor .^—'Yhaxx dost not tell the truth : so let Odin hide thee 
in the tombe, as thou hast Tirfing by thee. Art thou unwilling, 
Angantyr, to give an inheritance to thy only child ? . . . 

Angantyr. — Fals woman, thou dost not understand, that 
thou speakest foolishly of that, in which thou dost rejoice, for 
Tirfing shall, if thou wilt beleive me, maid, destroy all thy off- 
spring. 

Hervor. — I must go to my seamen, here I have no mind to 
stay longer. Little do I care, O Royall freind, what my sons 
hereafter quarrell about. 

Angantyr. — Take and keep Hialmars bane, which thou shalt 
long have and enjoy, touch but the edges of it, there is poyson 
in both of them, it is a most cruell devourer of men. 

Hervor. — I shall keep, and take in hand, the sharp sword 
which thou hast let me have : I do not fear, O slain father ! what 
my sons hereafter may quarrell about. . . . Dwell all of you 
safe in the tombe, I must be gon, and hasten hence, for I seem 
to be, in the midst of a place where fire burns round about me. 

One can well understand, who handles the ponderous The- 
saurus., w^hy the first English lovers of Old Norse were antiquar- 
ians. " The Awakening of Angantyr " is literally buried in this 
work, and only the student of Anglo-Saxon prosody would come 
upon it unassisted, since it is an illustration in a chapter of the 
Grammaticce Anglo-Saxonicce et Mceso-Gothicce. Students 
'will remember in this connection that it was a work on poetics that 
saved for us the original Icelandic Edda. The Icelandic skald 
had to know his nation's mythology. 

Thomas Percy (1729-1811). 

The title of Chapter XXIII in Hickes' work indicates that even 
among learned doctors mistaken notions existed as to the relation- 
ship of the Teutonic languages. It took more than a hundred 
years to set the error right, but in the meanwhile the literature of 



12 

Iceland was becoming better known to English readers. To the 
French scholar, Paul Henri Mallet ( 1 730-1807) , Europe owes the 
first popular presentation of Northern antiquities and literature. 
Appointed professor of belles-lettres in the Copenhagen academy 
he found himself with more time than students on his hands, be- 
cause not many Danes at that time understood French. His lei- 
sure time was applied to the study of the antiquities of his 
adopted country, the King's commission for a history of Den- 
mark making that necessary. As a preface to this work he pub- 
lished, in 1755, an Introduction a V Histoire de Dannemarc ou 
I'on traite de la Religion, des Lois, des Mceurs et des Usages 
des Anciens Danois, and, in 1756, the work in the list on a pre- 
vious page. In this second book was the first translation into a 
modern tongue of the Edda, and this volume, in consequence, at- 
tracted much attention. The great English antiquarian, Thomas 
Percy, afterward Bishop of Dromore, was early drawn to this 
work, and with the aid of friends he accomplished a translation 
of it, ■which w^as published in 1770. 

Mallet's work was very bad in its account of the racial affinities 
of the nations commonly referred to as the barbarians that over- 
turned the Roman empire and culture. Percy, who had failed 
to edit the ballad MSS. so as to please Ritson, was wise enough 
to see Mallet's error, and to insist that Celtic and Gothic anti- 
quities must not be confounded. '\ Mallet's translation of the 
Edda was imperfect, too, because he had followed the Latin 
version of Resenius, which was notoriously poor. Percy's 
Edda was no better, because it was only an English version of 
Mallet. But we are not concerned with these critical considera- 
tions here ; and so it will be enough to record the fact that with 
the publication of Percy's Northern Antiquities — the English 
name of Mallet's work — in 1770, knowledge of Icelandic litera- 
ture passed from the exclusive control of learned antiquarians. 
More and more, as time went on, men went to the Icelandic 
originals, and translations of poems and sagas came from the 
press in increasing numbers. In the course of time came original 
works that were inspired by Old Norse stories and Old Norse 
conceptions. 

We have already noted that Gray's poems on Icelandic themes, 
though written in 1761, were not published until 1768. Another 



13 

delayed work on similar themes was Percy's Pive Pieces of 
Runic Poetry^ which, the author tells us, was prepared for the 
press in 176I) but, through an accident, was not published until 
1 763 , The preface has this interesting sentence : "It would be 
as vain to deny, as it is perhaps impolitic to mention, that this at- 
tempt is owing to the success of the Erse fragments." The book 
has an appendix containing the Icelandic originals of the poems 
translated, and that portion of the book shows that a scholar's 
hand and interest made the volume. So, too, does the close of 
the preface : " That the study of ancient northern literature hath 
its important uses has been often evinced by able writers : and 
that it is not dry or unamusive this little work it is hoped will 
demonstrate. Its aim at least is to shew, that if those kind of 
studies are not always employed on works of taste or classic ele- 
gance, they serve at least to unlock the treasures of native genius ; 
they present us with frequent sallies of bold imagination, and 
constantly afford matter for philosophical reflection by showing 
the workings of the human mind in its almost original state of 
nature." 

That original state was certainly one of original sin, if these 
poems are to be believed. Every page in this volume is drenched 
wath blood, and from this book, as from Gray's poems and the 
other Old Norse imitations of the time, a picture of fierceness 
and fearfulness was the only one possible. Percy intimates in 
his preface that Icelandic poetry has other tales to tell besides the 
" Incantation of Hervor," the " Dying Ode of Regner Lodbrog," 
the " Ransome of Egill the Scald," and the "Funeral Song of 
Hacon," which are here set down; he offers the "Complaint of 
Harold " as a slight indication that the old poets left ' ' behind 
them many pieces on the gentler subjects of love or friendship." 
But the time had not come for the presentation of those pieces. 

All of these translations were from the Latin versions extant 
in Percy's time. This volume copied Hickes's translation of 
' ' Hervor's Incantation " modified in a few particulars, and like 
that one, the other translations in this volume were in prose. The 
work is done as well as possible, and it remained for later scholars 
to point out errors in translation. The negative contractions in 
Icelandic were as yet unfamiliar, and so, as Walter Scott pointed 
out (in Edin. Rev., Oct., 1806), Percy made Regner Lodbrog 



14 

say, "The pleasure of that day (of battle, p. 34 in this Five 
Pieces) was like having a fair virgin placed beside one in the 
bed," and " The pleasure of that day was like kissing a young 
widow at the highest seat of the table," when the poet really 
made the contrary statement. 

Of course, the value of this book depends upon the view 
that is taken of it. Intrinsically, as literature, it is well-nigh 
valueless. It indicates to us, however, a constantly growing 
interest in the literature it reveals, and it undoubtedly directed 
the attention of the poets of the succeeding generation to a field 
rich in romantic possibilities. That no great work was then 
created out of this material was not due to neglect. As we shall 
see, many puny poets strove to breathe life into these, bones, but 
the divine power was not in the poets. Some who were not 
poets had yet the insight to feel the value of this ancient litera- 
ture, and they made known the facts concerning it. It seems a 
mechanical and unpromising way to have great poetry written, 
this calling out, "New Lamps for Old." Yet it is on record 
that great poems have been written at just such instigation. 

Thomas Warton (i 728-1 790). 

Historians^ of Romanticism have marked Warton's History of 
English Poetry as one of the forces that made for the new idea 
in literature. This record of a past which, though out of favor, 
was immeasurably superior to the time of its historian, spread 
new views concerning the poetic art among the rising generation, 
and suggested new subjects as well as new treatments of old sub-, 
jects. We have mentioned the fact that Gray handed over to 
Warton his notes for a contemplated history of poetry, and that 
Warton found no place in his work for Gray's adaptations from 
the Old Norse. Warton was not blind to the beauties of Gray's 
poems, nor did he fail to appreciate the merits of the litera- 
ture which they illustrated. His scheme relegated his remarks 
concerning that poetry to the introductory dissertation, "Of the 
Origin of Romantic Fiction in Europe." What he had to say 
was in support of a theory which is not accepted to-day, and of 
course his statements concerning the origin of the Scandinavian 

' Stopford Brooke, English Literature. D. Appleton & Co. , New Yorli. 
1884. p. 150. 



15 

people were as wrong as those that we found in Mallet and 
Temple. But with all his misinformation, Warton managed to 
get at many truths about Icelandic poetry, and his presentation of 
them was fresh and stimulating. Already the Old Norse mythol- 
ogy was well known, even down to Valhalla and the mistletoe. 
Old Norse poetry was well enough known to call forth this re- 
mark : 

" They (the ' Runic ' odes) have a certain sublime and figura- 
tive cast of diction, which is indeed one of their predominant 
characteristics. . . . When obvious terms and phrases evidently 
occurred, the Runic poets are fond of departing from the com- 
mon and established diction. They appear to use circumlocu- 
tion and comparisons not as a matter of necessity, but of choice 
and skill : nor are these metaphorical colourings so much the re- 
sult of want of words, as of warmth of fancy." The note gives 
these examples : " Thus, a rainbow is called, the bridge of the 
gods. Poetry, the mead of Odin. The earth, the vessel that 
floats on ages. A ship, the horse of the waves. A tongue, the 
sword of words. Night, the veil of cares." 

A study of the notes to Warton's dissertation reveals the fact 
that he had made use of the books already mentioned in the list 
on a previous page, and of no others that are significant. But 
such excellent use was made of them, that it would seem as if 
nothing was left in them that could be made valuable for spread- 
ing a knowledge of and an enthusiasm for Icelandic literature. 
When it is remembered that Warton's purpose was to prove the 
Saracenic origin of romantic fiction in Europe, through the Moors 
in Spain, and that Icelandic literature was mentioned only to ac- 
count for a certain un-Arabian tinge in that romantic fiction, the 
wonder grows that so full and fresh a presentation of Old Norse 
poetry should have been made. He puts such passages as these 
into his illustrative notes: "Tell my mother Suanhita in Den- 
mark, that she will not this summer comb the hair of her son. I 
had promised her to return, but now my side shall feel the edge 
of the sword." There is an appreciation of the poetic here, that 
makes us feel that Warton was not an unworthy wearer of the 
laurel. He insists that the Saxon poetry was powerfully affected 
by "the old scaldic fables and heroes," and gives in the text a 
translation of the " Battle of Brunenburgh" to prove his case. 



16 

He admires ' ' the scaldic dialogue at the tomb of Angantyr," but 
wrongly attributes a beautiful translation of it to Gray. He 
quotes at length from " a noble ode, called in the northern chron- 
icles the Elogium of Hacon, by the scald Eyvynd ; who, for his 
superior skill in poetry was called the Cross of Poets (Eyvindr 
Skdlldaspillir) , and fought in the battle which he celebrated." 

He knows how Iceland touched England, as this passage will 
show: "That the Icelandic bards were common in England 
during the Danish invasions, there are numerous proofs. Egill, 
a celebrated Icelandic poet, having murthered the son and many 
of the friends of Eric Blodaxe, king of Denmark or Norway, 
then residing in Northumberland, and which he had just con- 
quered, procured a pardon by singing before the king, at the 
command of his queen Gunhilde, an extemporaneous ode. Egill 
compliments the king, who probably was his patron, with the 
appellation of the English chief. "I offer my freight to the 
king. I owe a poem for my ransom. I present to the English 
Chief the mead of Odin." Afterwards he calls this Danish 
conqueror the commander of the Scottish fleet. " The com- 
mander of the Scottish fleet fattened the ravenous birds. The 
sister of Nera (Death) trampled on the foe : she trampled on the 
evening food of the eagle." 

So wide a knowledge and so keen an appreciation of Old 
Norse in a Warton, whose interest was chiefly elsewhere, argues 
for a spreading popularity of the ancient literature. Thus far, 
only Gray has made living English literature out of these old 
stories, and he only two short poems. There were other attempts 
to achieve poetic success w^ith this foreign material, but a hun- 
dred exacting years have covered them with oblivion. 

Drake (1766-1836). Mathias (1754-1835). 

In the second decade of the nineteenth century, Nathan Drake, 
M.D., made a strong effort to popularize Norse mythology and 
literature. The fourth edition of his work entitled Literary 
Hours (London, 1830) contains ' an appreciative article on the 
subject, the fullness of which is indicated in these words from 
p. 309 : 

" The most striking and characteristic parts of the Scandi- 

^Vol. 3, pp. 146-311. 



17 

navian mythology, together with no inconsiderable portion of 
the manners and customs of our northern ancestors, have now 
passed before the reader ; their theology, warfare, and poetry, 
their gallantry, religious rites, and superstitions, have been 
separately, and, I trust, distinctly reviewed." 

The essay is written in an easy style that doubtless gained for 
it many readers. All the available knowledge of the subject 
was used, and a clearer view of it was presented than had been 
obtainable in Percy's "Mallet." The author was a thoughtful 
man, able to detect errors in Warton and Percy, but his zeal in 
his enterprise led him to praise versifiers inordinately that had 
used the "Gothic fables." He quotes liberally from writers 
whose books are not to be had in this country, and certainly the 
uninspired verses merit the neglect that this fact indicates. He 
calls Sayers' pen " masterly" that wrote these lines : 

Coucher of the ponderous spear, 

Thou shout' St amid the battle's stound — 
The armed Sisters hear, 

Viewless hurrying o'er the ground 
They strike the destin'd chiefs and call them to the skies. 

(P. i68.) 

From Penrose he quotes such lines as these : 

The feast begins, the skull goes round, 
Laughter shouts — the shouts resound. 
The gust of war subsides — E'en now 

The grim chief curls his cheek, and smooths his rugged brow. 

(P. 171.) 
From Sterling comes this imitation of Gray : 

Now the rage of combat burns; 

Haughty chiefs on chiefs lie slain ; 
The battle glows and sinks by turns. 

Death and carnage load the plain. 
(P. 172.) 

From these extracts, it appears that the poets who imitated 
Gray considered that only " dreadful songs," like his, were to be 
found in Scandinavian poetry. 

Downman, Herbert and Mathias are also adduced by Dr. 
Drake as examples of poets who have gained much by Old Norse 
borrowings, but these borrowings are invariably scenes from a 



18 

chamber of horrors. It occurs to me that perhaps Dr. Drake 
had begun to th-eof the spiritless echoes of the classical schools, 
and that he fondly hoped that such shrieks and groans as those 
he admired in this essay would satisfy his cravings for better 
things in poetry. But the critic had no adequate knowledge of 
the way in which genius works. His one desire in these studies 
of Scandinavian mythology was "to recommend it to the votaries 
of the Muse, as a machinery admirably constructed for their pur- 
pose" (p. 158). He hopes for " a more extensive adoption of 
the Scandinavian mythology, especially in our epic and lyric 
compositions" (p. 311). We smile at the notion, to-day, but 
that very conception of poetry as " machinery" is characteristic 
of a whole century of our English literature. 

The Mathias mentioned by Drake is Thomas James Mathias, 
whose book. Odes Chiefly from the Norse Tongue (London, 
1781), received the distinction of an American reprint (New 
York, 1806). Bartholinus furnishes the material and Gray the 
spirit for these pieces. 

Amos S. Cottle (1768-1800). William Herbert 
(1778-1847). 

In this period belong two works of translation that mark the 
approach of the time when Old Norse prose and poetry were to 
be read in the original. As literature they are of little value, and 
they had but slight influence on succeeding writers. 

At Bristol, in 1797, was published Icelandic Poetry^ or, The 
Edda of Saemund translated into English Verse, by A. S. 
Cottle of Magdalen College, Cambridge. This work has an In- 
troduction containing nothing worth discussing here, and an 
"Epistle" to A. S. Cottle from Robert Southey. The laureate, 
in good blank verse, discourses on the Old Norse heroes whom 
he happens to know about. They are the old favorites, Regner 
Lodbrog and his sons ; in Southey's poem the foeman's skull is, 
as usual, the drinking cup. It was certainly time for new actors 
and new properties to appear in English versions of Scandinavian 
stories. 

The translations are twelve in number, and evince an intelli- 
gent and facile versifier. When all is said, these old songs could 
contribute to the pleasure of very few. Only a student of his- 



19 

toiy, or a poet, or an antiquarian, would dwell with loving in- 
terest on the lays of Vafthrudnis, Grimner, Skirner and Hymer 
(as Cottle spells them) . Besides, they are difficult to read, and 
must be abundantly annotated to make them comprehensible. In 
such works as this of Cottle, a Scott might find wherewith to 
lend color to a story or a poem, but the common man would bor- 
row Walpole's words, used in characterizing Gray's "Odes": 
' ' They are not interesting, and do not . . . touch any passion ; 
our human feelings . . . are not here affected. Who can care 
through what horrors a Runic savage arrived at all the joys and 
glories they could conceive — the supreme felicity of boozing ale 
out of the skull of an enemy in Odin's hall ? " ^ 

In 1804 a book was published bearing this title-page : Select 
Icelandic Poetry^ translated from the originals : with notes. 
The preface was signed by the author, William Herbert. The 
pieces are from Ssemund, Bartholinus, Verelius, and Perinskj old's 
edition of Ileimskringia, and were all translated with the as- 
sistance of the Latin versions. The notes are explanatory of the 
allusions and the hiatuses in the poems. Reference is made to 
MSS. of the Norse pieces existing in museums and libraries, 
which the author had consulted. Thus we see scholarship be- 
ginning to extend investigations. As for the verses themselves 
not much need be said. They are not so good as Cottle's, al- 
though they received a notice from Scott in the Edinburgh He- 
view. The thing to notice about the work is that it pretends to 
come direct from Old Norse, not, as most of the work dealt with 
so far, via Latin. 

Icelandic poetry is more difficult to read than Icelandic prose, 
and so it seems strange that the former should have been attacked 
first by English scholars. Yet so it was, and until 1844 our 
English literature had no other inspiration in old Norse writings 
than the rude and rugged songs that first lent their lilt to Gray. 
The human North is in the sagas, and when they were revealed to 
our people, Icelandic literature began to mean something more 
than Valhalla and the mead-bouts there. The scene was changed 
to earth, and the gods gave place to nobler actors, men and 
women. The action was lifted to the eminence of a world- 
drama. But before the change came Sir Walter Scott, and it is 

'Quoted in Introduction, p. vii. 



20 

fitting that the first period of Norse influence in English litera- 
ture should close, as it began, with a great master. 

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). 

In 1792, Walter Scott was twenty-one years old, and one of 
his note-books of that year contains this entry : " Vegtam's Kvitha 
or The Descent of Odin, with the Latin of Thomas Bartholine, 
and the English poetical version of Mr. Gray ; with some account 
of the Death of Balder, both as related in the Edda, and as 
handed down to us by the Northern historians — Auctore Gualtero 
Scott." According to Lockhart,^ the Icelandic, Latin and Eng- 
lish versions were here transcribed, and the historical account 
that followed — seven closely written quarto pages — was read 
before a debating society. 

It was to be expected that one so enthusiastic about antiquities 
as Scott would early discover the treasury of Norse history and 
song. At twenty-one, as we see, he is transcribing a song in a 
language he knew nothing about, as well as in translations. 
Fourteen years later, he has learned enough about the subject to 
write a review of Herbert's Poems and Translations^'' 

In 1813, he writes an account of the Eyrbyggja Saga for 
Illustrations of Northern Antiquities (edited by Robert Jame- 
son, Edinburgh, 1814). 

There are two of Scott's contributions to literature that possess 
more than a mere tinge of Old Norse knowledge, namely, the 
long poem "Harold, the Dauntless" (published in 1817), and 
the long story "The Pirate" (published in 1821). The poem 
is weak, but it illustrates Scott's theory of the usefulness of poet- 
ical antiquities to the modern poet. In another connection Scott 
said : "In the rude song of the Scald, we regard less the strained 
imagery and extravagance of epithet, than the v\''ild impressions 
which it conveys of the dauntless resolution, savage superstition, 
rude festivity and ceaseless depredations of the ancient Scandi- 
navians.'" The poet did his work in accordance with this 
theory, and so in " Harold, the Dauntless," we note no flavor of 

1 Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart., Vol. I, p. 231. Bos- 
ton, Houghton, Osgood & Co. 1879. 

2 Edinburgh Review, Oct., 1806. 

'Quoted in Lockhart's Life, Vol. Ill, p. 241. 



21 

the older poetry in phrase or in method. Harold is fierce enough 
and grim enough to measure up to the old ideal of a Norse hero. 
" I was rocked in a buckler and fed from a blade," is his boast 
before his newly christened father, and in his apostrophe to his 
grandsire Eric, the popular notion of early Norse antiquarianism 
is again exhibited : 

In wild Valhalla hast thou quaffed 
From foeman's skull metheglin draught? 

Scott's scholarship in Old Norse was largely derived from the 
Latin tomes, and such conceptions as those quoted are therefore 
common in his poem. That the poet realized the inadequacy of 
such knowledge, the review of Herbert's poetry, published in the 
Edinburgh Review for October, 1806, shows. In this article 
he has a vision of what shall be when men shall be able ' ' to 
trace the Runic rhyme " itself. 

" The Pirate," exhibited the Wizard's skill in weaving the old 
and the new together, the old being the traditions of the Shet- 
lands, full of the ancestral beliefs in Old Norse things, the new 
being the life in those islands in a recent century. This is a stir- 
ring story, that comes into our consideration because of its Scan- 
dinavian antiquities. Again we find the Latin treasuries of Bar- 
tholinus, Torfseus, Perinskjold and Olaus Magnus in evidence, 
though here, too, mention is made of " Haco," and Tryggvason 
and " Harfager." With a background of island scenery, with 
which Scott became familiar during a light-house inspector's voy- 
age made in 18 14, this story is a picture full of vivid colors and 
characters. In Noma of the Fitful Head, he has created a mys- 
terious personage in whose mouth ' ' Runic rhymes " are the only 
proper speech. She stills the tempest with them, and "The 
Song of the Tempest " is a strong apostrophe, though it is neither 
Runic nor rhymed. She preludes her life-story with verses that 
are rhymed but not Runic, and she sings incantations in the same 
wise. This ReiTnkennar is an echo of the Voluspd, and is the 
only kind of Norse woman that the time of Scott could imagine. 
Claud Halcro, the poet, is fond of rhyming the only kind of Norse- 
man known to his time, and in his " Song of Harold Harfager " 
we hear the echoes of Gray's odes. Scott's reading was wide in 
all ancient lore, and he never missed a chance to introduce an odd 



22 

custom if it would make an interesting scene in his story. So 
here we have the " Sword Dance " (celebrated by Olaus Mag- 
nus, though I have never read of it in Old Norse), the "Ques- 
tioning of the Sibyl " (like that in Gray's " Descent of Odin"), 
the " Capture and Sharing of the Whale," and the "Promise of 
Odin." In most of the natives there are turns of speech that re- 
call the Norse ancestry of the Shetlanders. 

In Scott, then, we see the lengthening out of the influence of 
the antiquarians who wrote of a dead past in a dead language. 
The time was at hand when that past was to live again, painted 
in the living words of living men. 



III. 

FROM THE SOURCES THEMSELVES. 

In the preceding section we noted the achievements of Eng- 
lish scholarship and genius working under great disadvantages. 
Gray and Scott may have had a smattering of Icelandic, but 
Latin translations were necessary to reveal the meaning of what 
few Old Norse texts were available to them. This paucity of 
material, more than the ignorance of the language, was respon- 
sible for the slow progress in popularizing the remarkable litera- 
ture of the North. Scaldic and Eddie poems comprised all that 
was known to English readers of that literature, and in them the 
superhuman rather than the human elements were predominant. 

We have come now to a time when the field of our view 
broadens to include not only more and different material, but 
more and different men. The sagas were annexed to the old 
songs, and the body of literature to attract attention was thus in- 
creased a thousand fold. The antiquarians were supplanted by 
scholars who, although passionately devoted to the study of the 
past, were still vitally interested in the affairs of the time in 
which they lived. The second and greatest stage of the develop- 
ment of Old Norse influence in England has a mark of distinc- 
tion that belongs to few literary epochs. The men who made it 
lived lives that were as heroic in devotion to duty and principle 
as many of those written down in the sagas themselves. I have 
sometimes wondered whether it is merely accidental that English 
saga scholars were so often men of high soul and strong action. 
Certain it is that Richard Cleasby, and Samuel Laing, and 
George Webbe Dasent, and Robert Lowe are types of men that 
the Icelanders would have celebrated, as having " left a tale to 
tell " in their full and active lives. And no less certain is it that 
Thomas Carlyle, and Matthew Arnold, and William Morris, and 
Charles Kingsley, and Gerald Massey labored for a better man- 
hood that should rise to the stature and reflect the virtues of the 
heroes of the Northland. 

23 



24 

Richard Cleasby (i 797-1847). 
In the forties of the nineteenth century several minds began to 
work, independently of one another, in this wider field of Ice- 
landic literature. Richard Cleasby (1797-1847), an English 
merchant's son with scholarly instincts, began the study of the 
sagas, but made slight progress because of w^hat he called an 
"unaccountable and most scandalous blank," the want of a dic- 
tionary. This was in 1840, and for the next seven years he 
labored to fill up that blank. The record^ of those years is a 
wonderful witness to the heroism and spirit of the scholar, and 
justifies Sir George Dasent's characterization of Cleasby as " one 
of the most indefatigable students that ever lived." The work 
thus begun was not completed until many years afterward (it is 
dated 1874), and, by untoward circumstances, very little of it is 
Richard Cleasby's. But generous scholarship acknowledged its 
debt to the man who gave his strength and his wealth to the 
work, by placing his name on the title-page. No less shall we 
fail to honor his memory by mentioning his labors here. 
Although the dictionary was not completed in the decade of its 
inception, the study that it was designed to promote took hold 
on a number of men and the results were remarkable for both 
literature and scholarship. * 

Thomas Carlyle (i 795-1 881). 
First in order of time was the work of Thomas Carlyle. It 
will not seem strange to the student of English literature to find 
that this writer came under the influence of the old skalds and 
sagaman and spoke appreciative words concerning them. His 
German studies had to take cognizance of the Old Norse treas- 
uries of poetry, and he became a diligent reader of Icelandic 
literature in what ti-anslations he could get at, German and Eng- 
lish. The strongest utterance on the subject that he left behind 
him is in "Lecture I" of the series "On Heroes, Hero- Wor- 
ship, and the Heroic in History," dated May, 1840. This is a 
treatment of Scandinavian mythology, rugged and thorough, like 
all of this man's work. Carlyle evinces a scholar's instinct in 

1 In G. W. Dasent's Life of Cleasby, prefixed to the Icelandic-English 
Dictionary. Based on the MS. collection of the late Richard Cleasby, en- 
larged and completed by Gudbrand Vigfusson. Oxford, 1874. 



25 

more than one place, as, for instance, when he doubts theg-rand- 
niother etymology of Edda^ an etymology repeated until a much 
later day by scholars of a less sure sense/ But this lecture 
" On Heroes " is also a glorification of the literature with which 
we are dealing, and in this regard it is worthy of special note 
here. 

In the first place, Carlyle with true critical instinct caught the 
essence of it; to him it seemed to have " a rude childlike way 
of recognizing the divineness of Nature, the divineness of Man." 
For him Scandinavian mythology was superior in sincerity to the 
Grecian, though it lacked the grace of the latter. " Sincerity, I 
think, is better than grace. I feel that these old Northmen were 
looking into Nature with open eye and soul : most earnest, 
honest ; childlike, and yet manlike ; with a great-hearted sim- 
plicity and depth and freshness, in a true, loving, admiring, 
unfearing way. A right valiant, true old race of men." This is 
a truer appreciation than Gray and Walpole had, eighty years 
before. In the second place, Carlyle was not misled into thinking 
that valor in war was the only characteristic of the rude Norse- 
man, and skill in drinking his only household virtue. " Beauti- 
ful traits of pity, too, and honest pity." Then he tells of Baldur 
and Nanna, in his rugged prose account anticipating Matthew 
Arnold. Other qualities of the literature appeal to him. "I 
like much their robust simplicity ; their veracity, directness of 
conception. Thor ' draws down his brows ' in a veritable Norse 
rage ; ' grasps his hammer till the knuckles grow white." 
Again ; "A great bfoad Brobdignag grin of true humor is this 
Skrymir ; mirth resting on earnestness and sadness, as the rain- 
bow on the black tempest : only a right valiant heart is capable 
of that." Still again: " This law of mutation, which also is a 
law written in man's inmost thought, has been deciphered by 
these old earnest Thinkers in their rude style." 

Thomas Carlyle, seeking to explain the worship of a pagan 
divinity, chose Odin as the noblest example of such a hero. The 
picture of Odin he drew from the prose Edda, mainly, and his 

^In another work by Carlyle, The Early Kings of JSIor-way (1875) he 
takes special delight in revealing to Englishmen name etymologies that 
hark back to Norse times. Of this sort are Osborn from Osbjorn ; Tooley 
St. (Londqn) from St. Olave, St. Oley, Stooley, Tooley, (Chap. X). 



26 

purpose required that he paint the picture in the most attractive 
colors. So it happened that our English literature got its first 
complete view of Old Norse ethics and art. The memory of 
Gray's "dreadful songs" had ruled for almost a century, and 
ordinary readers might be pardoned for thinking that Old Norse 
literature, like Old Norse history, was written in blood. We 
have seen that Gray's imitators perpetuated the old idea, and 
that even Scott sanctioned it, and now we see England's eman- 
cipation from it. The grouty old Scotchman of Craigenputtoch 
knew no more Icelandic than most of his fellow countrymen (be 
it noted that he said: "From the Humber upwards, all over 
Scotland, the speech of the common people is still in a singu- 
lar degree Icelandic, its Germanism has still a peculiar Norse 
tinge") ; but he saw far more deeply into the heart of Icelandic 
literature than anybody before him. His emphasis of its many 
sidedness, of its sincerity, its humanity, its simplicity, its direct- 
ness, its humor and its wisdom, was the signal for a change in 
the popular estimation of its worth to our modern art. Since 
his day we have had Morris and Arnold and a host of minor 
singers, and the nineteenth century revival of interest in Old 
Norse literature. 

The other work by Carlyle dealing directly with Old Norse 
material is The Early Kings of Norway. Here he digests 
Ueimskringla, which was obtainable through Laing's transla- 
tion, in a way to stir the blood. The story, as he tells it, is 
breathlessly interesting, and it is a pity that readers of Carlyle so 
often stop short of this work. As in the Hero- Worship., he 
shows this Teutonic bias, and the religious training that minified 
Greek literature. 

Snorri's work elicits from him repeated applause. Here, for 
instance, in Chap. X : "It has, all of it, the description (and we 
see clearly the fact itself had) , a kind of pathetic grandeur, sim- 
plicity, and rude nobleness ; something Epic or Homeric, with- 
out the metre or the singing of Homer, but with all the sincerity, 
rugged truth to nature, and much more of piety, devoutness, rev- 
erence for what is ever high in this universe, than meets us in 
those old Greek Ballad-mongers." 



27 

Samuel Laing (1780-1868). 

It was the work of Samuel Laing that gave Carlyle the mate- 
rial for this last-mentioned book."^ Laing's translation of Heims- 
kringla bears the date 1844, and although Mr. Dasent's quaint 
version of the Prose Edda preceded it by two years, The Sagas 
of the Norse Kings was the " epoch-making" book. It is true 
that a later version has superseded it in literary^ and scholarly 
finish, but Laing's work was a pioneer of sterling intrinsic value, 
and many there be that do it homage still. Laing had the laud- 
able ambition — so seldom found in these days — " to give a plain, 
faithful translation into English of the Heimskringla^ unencum- 
bered with antiquarian research, and suited to the plain English 
reader." ^ With this work, then, Icelandic lore passes out of the 
hands of the antiquarian into the hands of common readers. It 
matters little that the audience is even still fit and few ; from this 
time on he that runs may read. 

For our purpose it will not be necessary to characterize the 
translation. Laing commanded an excellent style, and he was 
enthusiastic over his work. Indeed, the commonest criticism 
passed on the " Preliminary Dissertation" was that the author's 
zeal had run away with his good sense. Be that as it may, Laing 
called the attention of his readers to the neglect of a literature 
and a history w^hich should be England's pride, as Anglo-Saxon 
literature and history even then were. The reviews of the time 
made it appear as if another Battle of the Books were impending 
— Anglo-Saxon versus Icelandic ; a w^riter in the English Re- 
view (Vol. 82, p. 316), pro-Saxon in his zeal, admitting at last 
that " of none of the children of the Norse, whether Goth or 
Frank, Saxon or Scandinavian, have the others any reason to be 
ashamed. All have earned the gratitude and admiration of the 
world, and their combined or successive efforts have made Eng- 
land and Europe what they are." 

It is refreshing to come upon new views of Old Norse char- 
acter, that recognize " amidst anarchy and bloodshed, redeem- 
ing features of kindliness and better feeling which tell of the 

1 The Early Kings of Norway bears a later date — 1875 — than the works 
we are considering just now, and it is dealt with here only because Car- 
lyle's Heroes and Hero -WorsJiif belongs in the decade we are consid- 
ering. 

2 Chap. V of Preliminary Dissertation. 



28 

mingled principles that war within our nature for the mastery." 
Laing's translation accomplished this for English readers, and 
with the years came a deeper knowledge that showed those 
touches of tenderness and traits of beauty which, even in 1844, 
■were not perceptible to those readers. 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (i 807-1 882). 
James Russell Lowell (1819-1891). 

T/ie Story of the Norse Kings ^ thus translated by an English- 
man, suggested to our American poet, Longfellow, a series of 
lyrics on King Olaf . The young college professor that wrote 
about Frithjof's Saga in the North American Review for 
1837, was bound, sooner or later, to come back to the field when 
he found that the American reading public would listen to what- 
ever songs he sang to them. Before 1850, Longfellow had 
written "The Challenge of Thor," a poem w^hich imitated the 
form of Icelandic verse and catches much of its spirit. In 1859, 
the thought came to him " that a very good poem might be 
written on the Saga of King Olaf, who converted the North to 
Christianity." Two years later he completed the lyrics that 
compose "The Musician's Tale" in The Tales of a Wayside 
Inn^ published in 1863, and in this work " The Challenge of 
Thor " serves as a prelude. The pieces after this prelude are not 
imitations of the Icelandic verse, but are like Tegner's Frithjof's 
Saga, in that each new portion has a meter of its own. There 
is not, either, a consistent effort to put the flavor of the North into 
the poetry, so that, properly speaking, we have here only the re- 
telling of an old tale. The ballad fervor and movement are often 
perceptible, though nowhere does the poet strike the ringing note 
of " The Skeleton in Armor," published in the volume of 
1841. 

Truth to tell, Longfellow's " Saga of King Olaf" is not a re- 
markable work. One who reads the few chapters in Carlyle's 
Early Kings of Norway that deal with Olaf Tryggvason gets 
more of the fire and spirit of the old saga at every turning. The 
poet chooses scenes and incidents very skilfully, but for their proper 
presentation a terseness is necessary that is not reconcilable with 
frequent rhymes. Compare the saga account with the poem's : 
" What is this that has broken? " asked King Olaf. " Norway 
from thy hand, King," answered Tamberskelver. 



29 

' ' What was that ? ' ' said Olaf, standing 

On the quarter deck. 
' ' Something heard I like the stranding 

Of a shattered wreck. ' ' 
Einar then, the arrow taking 

From the loosened string, 
Answered, • ' That was Norway breaking 

From thy hand, O King ! ' ' 

Nevertheless, Longfellow is to be thanked for acquainting a 
wide circle of readers with the sterling saga literature. 

One other American poet was busy with the ancient Northern 
literature at this time. James Russell Low^ell wrote one notable 
poem that is Old Norse in subject and spirit, ' ' The Voyage to 
Vinland." The third part of the poem, " Gudrida's Prophecy," 
hints at Icelandic versification, and the short lines are hammer- 
strokes that warm the reader to enthusiasm. Far more of the 
spirit of the old literature is in this short poem than is to be 
found in the whole of Longfellow's " Saga of King Olaf." The 
character of Biorn is well drawn, recalling Bodli, of Morris' 
poem, in its principal features. Certainly there is a reflection 
here of that Old Norse conception of life which gave to men's 
deeds their due reward, and which exalted the power of will. 
This poem was begun in 1850, but was not published till 1868. 

In Lowell's poems are to be found many figures and allusions 
pointing to his familiarity with Icelandic song and story. At 
the end of the third strophe of the " Commemoration Ode," for 
instance. Truth is pictured as Brynhild, 

plumed and mailed, 
With sweet, stern face unveiled. 

In these borrowings of themes and allusions, Lowell is at one 
with most of the poets of the present day. It used to be the 
fashion, and is still, for tables of contents in volumes of verse to 
show titles like these : "Prometheus"; " Iliad VIII, 542-561 " ; 
"Alectryon." Present-day volumes are becoming more and 
more besprinkled with titles like these : ' ' Balder the Beautiful " ; 
"The Death of Arnkel," etc. In this fact alone is seen the 
turn of the tide. Heroes and heroines in dramas and novels are 
beginning to bear Old Norse names, even where the setting is 
not northern ; witness Sidney Dobell's Balder^ where not even a 
single allusion is made to Icelandic matters. 



30 

Matthew Arnold (1S22-1888). 

Matthew Arnold's strong sympathy with noble and virile litera- 
ture of whatever age or nation led him in time to Old Norse, and 
his poem "Balder Dead" is of distinct importance among the 
works of the nineteenth century in English literature. It is an 
addition of permanent value to our poetry, because of its marked 
originality and its high ethical tone. " Mallet, and his version 
of the Edda, is all the poem is based upon," says Arnold.'^ It 
is the poet's divinely implanted instinct that gathers from the few 
chapters of an old book a knowledge wonderfully full and deep 
of the cosmogony and eschatology of the northern nations of 
Europe. "Balder Dead" tells the familiar story of the whitest 
of the gods, but it also contains the essence of Old Icelandic re- 
ligion ; indeed there is no single short work in our language 
which gives a tithe of the information about the North, its spirit, 
and its philosophy, which this poem of Matthew Arnold's sets 
forth. In future days a text-book of original English poems 
will be in the hands of our boys and girls which will enable them 
to get, through the medium of their own language, the message 
and the spirit of foreign literature. Old Nor§e song will need 
no other representative that Matthew Arnold's "Balder Dead." 

This is an original poem. It does not imitate the verse nor 
the word of the older song, but the flavor of it is here. Gray 
and his imitators drew from the Icelandic fountain " dreadful 
songs " and many poets since have heard no milder note. Matthew 
Arnold's instincts were for peace and the arts of peace, and he 
found in Balder a type for the ennobling of our own century. 
Balder says to his brother who has come to lament that Lok's 
machinations will keep the best beloved of the gods in Niflheim : 

For I am long since weary of your storm 

Of carnage, and find, Hermod, in your life 

Something too much of war and broils, which make 

Life one perpetual fight, a bath of blood. 

Mine eyes are dizzy with the arrowy hail ; 

Mine ears are stunn'd with blows, and sick for calm. 

Arnold has exalted the Revelator of the Northern mythology 
and in magnificent poetry sets forth his apocalyptic vision : 

' Letters, Vol. I, p. 55, dated Dec. 12, 1855. 



31 

Unarm' d, inglorious ; I attend the course 
Of ages, and my late return to light, 
In times less ahen to a spirit mild. 
In new-recover' d seats, the happier day. 

Far to the south, beyond the blue, there spreads 

Another Heaven, the boundless — no one yet 

Hath reach' d it ; there hereafter shall arise * 

The second Asgard, with another name. 

There re-assembling we shall see emerge 
From the bright Ocean at our feet an earth 
More fresh, more verdant than the last, with fruits 
Self-springing, and a seed of man preserved, 
Who then shall live in peace, as now in war. ' 

Here is the grandest message that the Old Norse religion had 
to give, and Matthew Arnold concerned himself with that alone. 
It is a far cry from Regner Lodbrog to this. There is a fine 
touch in the introduction of Regner into the lamentation of 
Balder. Arnold makes the old warrior say of the ruder skalds : 

But they harp ever on one string, and wake 
Remembrance in our souls of war alone. 
Such as on earth we valiantly have waged, 
And blood, and ringing blows, and violent death. 
But when thou sangest, Balder, thou didst strike 
Another note, and, like a bird in spring. 
Thy voice of joyance minded us, and youth. 
And wife, and children, and our ancient home. 

Here is a human Norseman, a figure not often presented in the 
versions of the old stories that English poets and romancers have 
given us. Arnold did a good service to Icelandic literature when 
he put into Regner's mouth mild sentiments and a love for home 
and family. The note is not lacking in the ancient literature, 
but it took Englishmen three centuries to find it. It was the 
scholar, Matthew Arnold, who first repeated the gentler strain in 
the rude music of the North, as it was the scholar, Thomas Gray, 
who first echoed the "dreadful songs" of that old psalmody. 
Gray has all the culture of his age, when it was still possible to 
compass all knowledge in one lifetime ; Arnold had all the lit- 
erary culture of his fuller century when multiplied sciences force 



32 

a scholar to be content with one segment of human knowledge. 
The former had music and architecture and other sciences among 
his accomplishments ; the latter spread out in literature, as 
" Sohrab and Rustum," " Empedocles on Etna," " Tristram and 
Iseult," as well as " Balder Dead" attest. The quatrain prefixed 
to the volume containing the narrative and elegiac poems be- 
. tokens what joy Arnold had in his literaty work, and indicates 
why these poems cannot fail to live : 

What poets feel not, when they make, 

A pleasure in creating, 
The world in its turn will not take 

Pleasure in contemplating. 

Balder is the creation of Old Norse poetry that is most popular 
with contemporary English writers, and Matthew Arnold first 
made him so. As Bugge points out, no deed of his is " celebrated 
in song or story. His personality only is described ; of his ac- 
tivity in life almost no external trait is recorded. All the stress 
is laid upon his death ; and, like Christ, Baldr dies in his youth." ' 

Sir George Webbe Dasent (1820-1896). 
Among the scholars who have labored to give England the 
benefit of a fuller and truer knowledge of Norse matters, none 
will be remembered more gratefully than Sir George Webbe 
Dasent. Known to the reading public most widely by his trans- 
lations of the folk-tales of Asbjornsen and Moe, he has still a 
claim upon the attention of the students of Icelandic. As we 
have seen, he gave out a translation of the Younger Edda in 
1842, and during the half century and more that followed he 
wrote other works of history and literature connected with our 
subject. Two saga translations were published in 186 1 and 1866, 
The Story of Burnt Njal, and The Story of Gisli the Out- 
law, which will always rank high in this class of literature. 
Njala especially is an excellent piece of work, a classic among 
translations. The "Prolegomena" is rich in information, and 
very little of it has been superseded by later scholarship. In 1887 
and 1894 he translated for the Master of the Rolls, The Orkney 
Saga and The Saga of Hakon^ the texts of which Vigfusson 
had printed in the same series some years before. The interest 

^ Home of the Eddie Poems, p. xxxix. London, 1899. David Nutt. 



33 

of the government in Icelandic annals connected with English 
history is indicated in these last publications, and England is 
fortunate to have had such enthusiastic scholars as Vigfusson and 
Dasent to do the work. These men had been collaborators on 
the Cleasby Dictionary, and in this work as in all others Dasent 
displayed an eagerness to have his countrymen know how sig- 
nificant England's relationship to Iceland was. He was as cer- 
tain as Laing had been before him of the preeminence of this 
literature among the mediaeval writings. Like Laing, too, he 
would have the general reader turn to this body of work " which 
for its beauty and richness is worthy of being known to the' 
greatest possible number of readers." ^ 

To mark the progress away f roln the old conception of unmit- 
igated brutality these words of Dasent stand here : ^ " The faults 
of these Norsemen were the faults of their time ; their virtues they 
possessed in larger measure than the rest of their age, and thus 
when Christianity had tamed their fury, they became the torch- 
bearers of civilization ; and though the plowshare of Destiny, 
when it planted them in Europe, uprooted along its furrow many 
a pretty flower of feeling in the lands which felt the fury of these 
Northern conquerers, their energy and endurance gave a lasting 
temper to the West, and more especially to England, which will 
wear so long as the world wears, and at the same time implanted 
principles of freedom which shall never be rooted out. Such 
results are a compensation for many bygone sorrow^s." 

Charles Kingsley (i8 19-1875). 

In 1874, Charles Kingsley visited America and delivered some 
lectures. Among these was one entitled " The First Discovery 
of America." This interests us here because it displays an appre- 
ciation, if not a deep knowledge, of Icelandic literature. In it 
the lecturer commended to Longfellow's attention a ballad sung 
in the Faroes, begging him to translate it some day, "as none 
but he-can translate it." "It is so sad, that no tenderness less 
exquisite than his can prevent its being painful ; and at least in 
its denouement^ so naive, that no purity less exquisite than his can 

' Introduction to the Cleasby Dictionary. 
"Oxford Essays, 1858, p. 214. 



34 

prevent its being dreadful.'" Later in the lecture he commends 
to his hearers the Heimskringla of Snorri Sturluson, the 
" Homer of the North." '' 

Speaking of the elements that mingled to produce the British 
character, Kingsley says: "In manners as well as in religion, 
the Norse were humanized and civilized by their contact with 
the Celts, both in Scotland and in Ireland. Both peoples had 
valor, intellect, imagination : but the Celt had that which the 
burly, angular Norse character, however deep and stately, and 
however humorous, wanted; namely, music of nature, tender- 
ness, grace, rapidity, playfulness ; just the qualities, combining 
with the Scandinavian (and in Scotland with the Angle) elements 
of character which have produced, in Ireland and in Scotland, 
two schools of lyric poetry second to none in the world." ' Over 
the page, Kingsley has this to say : " For they were a sad people, 
those old Norse forefathers of ours."* Humorous and sad are 
not inconsistent words in these sentences ; the Norseman had a 
sense of the ludicrous, and could jest grimly in the face of death. 
Of the sadness of his life, no one needs to be told who has read 
a saga or two. Kingsley says : " There is, in the old sagas, 
none of that enjoyment of life which shines out everywhere in 
Greek poetry, even through its deepest tragedies. Not in com- 
placency with Nature's beauty, but in the fierce struggle with 
her wrath, does the Norseman feel pleasure." ^ 

This lecture shows a deeper acquaintance with Old Norse lit- 
erature than Kingsley was willing to acknowledge. Not only 
are the stories well chosen which he uses throughout, but the 
intuitions are sound, and the inferences based upon them. He 
anticipated the work of this investigation in the last words of the 
address. He has been telling the fine story of Thormod at 
Sticklestead : 

' ' I shall not insult your intelligence by any comment or even 
epithet of my own. I shall but ask you. Was not this man your 
kinsman .' Does not the story sound, allowing for all change of 

' Lectures delivered in America in 1874, bj' Charles Kingsley, London. 
1875. p. 71. 
2 P. 78. 
iT. 89. 
* P. 90. 
^P. 91. 



36 

manners as well as of time and place, like a scene out of your 
own Bret Harte or Colonel John Hay's writings ; a scene of the 
dry humor, the rough heroism of your own far West? Yes, as 
long as you have your Jem Bludsos and Tom Flynns of Vir- 
ginia City, the old Norse blood is surely not extinct, the old 
Norse spirit is not dead." ^ 

Edmund Gosse (1S49- ). 
Among contemporary English poets who have taught the world 
of readers that things Norse are worthy of attention, is Edmund 
Gosse. He has been more intimately connected with the popu- 
larization of modern Norwegian literature, notably of Ibsen, but 
he has also found in Old Norse story themes for poetic treatment. 
We mention "The Death of Arnkel," found in the volume 
Firdausi in Exile, more because it shows that our poets are 
turning to the gesta islandicorutn for themes, than because it is a 
remarkable poem. More pretentious is King Erik, a Tragedy, 
London, 1876. Here is a noble drama which displays an inti- 
mate acquaintance with the literature that gave it its themes and 
inspiration. The author dedicates it to Robert Browning, call- 
ing it: 

. . . this lyric symbol of my labour, 
This antique light that led my dreams so long, 
This battered huU of a barbaric tabor. 
Beaten to runic song. 

I have often thought that fate was veiy unkind to keep Brown- 
ing so persistently in the south of Europe, when, in Iceland and 
Norway, were mines that he could have worked in to such su- 
preme advantage. To be sure his method clashes with the sim- 
plicity of the Old Norse manner, but from him we should have 
had men and women superb in stature and virility, and perhaps 
the Arctic influence would have killed the troublesome tropicalit}' 
of his language. 

This drama by Gosse is not strictly Icelandic in motive. 
Jealousy was not the passion to loosen the tongue of the saga- 
man, and in so far as that is the theme of " King Erik," the play 
is not Old Norse in origin. Christian material, too, has been 
introduced that gives a modern tinge to the drama, but there is 

1 P. 96. 



36 

enough of the genuine saga spirit to warrant attention to it here. 
Something more than the names is Icelandic. Here is a woman, 
Botilda, with strength of character enough to recall a Brynhild 
or a Bergthora. Gisli is the foster-brother that takes up the 
blood-feud for Grimur. Adalbjorg and Svanhilda are the 
whisperers of slander and the workers of ill. Marcus is the 
skald who is making a poem about the king. Here are customs 
and beliefs distinctly Norse : 

I loved him from the first, 
And so the second midnight to the cliff 
We went. I mind me how the round moon rose, 
And how a great whale in the offing plunged. 
Dark on the golden circle. There we cut 
A space of turf, and lifted it, and ran 
Our knife-points sharp into our arms, and drew 
Blood that dripped into the warm mould and mixed. 
So there under the turf our plighted faith 
Starts in the dew of grasses. 

(Act. IV, Sc. II.) 

But all day long I hear amid the crowds, 

A voice that murmurs in a monotone. 

Strange, warning words that scarcely miss the ear, 

Yet miss it altogether. 

Botilda. 

Oh ! God grant. 
You be not fey, nor truly near your end ! 

(Act. IV, Sc. III.) 

Although this work is dramatic in form, it is not so in spirit. 
The true dramatist would have put such an incident as the swear- 
ing of brotherhood into a scene, instead of into a speech. This 
effort is, however, the nearest approach to a drama in English 
founded on saga material. It is curious that our poets have in- 
clined to every form but the drama in reproducing Old Norse 
literature. It is not that saga-stuff is not dramatic in possibilities. 
Ewald and Oehlenschlager have used this material to excellent 
effect in Danish dramas. Had the sagas been accessible to 
Englishmen in Shakespeare's time, we should certainly have had 
dramas of Icelandic life. 



IV. 

BY THE HAND OF THE MASTER. 

Time has brought us to the man whose work in this field needs 
no apology. The writer whom we consider next contributed 
almost as much material to the English treasury of Northern gold 
as did all the writers we have so far considered. Were it not 
for William Morris, the examination that we are making would 
not not be worth while. The name literature^ in its narrow 
sense, belongs to only a few of the writings that we have ex- 
amined up to this point, but what we are now to inspect deserves 
that title without the shadovsf of a doubt. For that reason we set 
in a separate chapter the examination of Morris' Old Norse 
adaptations and creations. 

William Morris (i 834-1 896). 

The biographer of William Morris fixes 1 868 as the beginning 
of the poet's Icelandic stories.^ Eirikr Magnusson, an Icelander, 
was his guide, and the pupil made rapid progress. Dasent's 
work had drawn Morris' attention to the sagas, and within a few 
months most of the sagas had been read in the original. Although 
The Saga of Gunnlang Worm-tongue was published in the 
Fortnightly Review^ for January, 1869, the Grettis Saga, of 
April, was the first published book on an Old Norse subject. 
The next year gave the Volsunga Saga. In 187 1, Morris made 
a journey through Iceland, the fruits of which were afterwards 
seen in many a noble work. In 1875, Three Northern Love 
Stories was published, and, in 1877, The Story of Sigurd the 
Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs. More than ten years 
passed before he turned again to Icelandic work, the Romances of 
the years of 1889 to 1896 showing signs of it, and the translations in 
the Saga Library, "Howard the Halt," "The Banded JVIen," 
Eyrbyggja and Heimskringla of 1891-95. These contribu- 

' The Life of William Morris, by J. W. Mackail. London, New York, 
Bombay. Vol. I, p. 200. 

37 



38 

tions to the subject of our examination are no less valuable than 
voluminous, and we make no excuses for an extended considera- 
tion of them. They deserve a wider public than they have yet 
attained. 

I. 

T/ie Story of Grettir the Strong is the title of Morris and 
Magnusson's version of the Grettis Saga. The version im- 
presses the reader as one made with loving care by artistic hands. 
Certainly English readers will read no other translation of this 
work, for this one is satisfactory as a version and as an art-work. 
English readers will here get all the flavor of the original that it 
is possible to get in a translation, and those who can read Ice- 
landic if put to it, will prefer to get Grettla through Morris 
and Magnusson. All the essentials are here, if not all the nu- 
ances. 

The reader unfamiliar with sagas will need a little patience 
with the genealogies that crop out in every chapter. The saga- 
man has a squirrel-like agility in cliinbing family trees, and he is 
well acquainted with their interlocking branches. There are 
chapters in the Grettis Saga where this vanity runs riot, and 
makes us suspect that Iceland differed little from a countr}- town 
of to-day in its love for gossip about the family of neighbors 
whose names happen to come into the conversation. If the 
reader will persevere through the early chapters, until Grettir com- 
mands exclusive attention, he will come to a drama which has 
not many peers in literature. The outlaw kills a man in every 
other chapter, but this record is no vulgar list of brutal fights. 
Not inhuman nature, but human nature is here shown, human 
nature struggling with unrelenting fate, making a grand fight, 
and coming to its end because it must, but without ignomin^•. 
How fine a touch it is that refuses to the outlaw's murderer the 
price set upon Grettir's head, because the getting of it was 
through a " nithings-deed," the murder of a dying man! Wil- 
liam Morris was most felicitous in envoys and dedicating poems, 
and in the sonnet prefixed to this translation he was particularly 
happy. The first eight lines describe the hero of the saga — the 
last six lines the significance of this literary creation : 



39 

A life scarce worth the living, a pooi fame 
Scarce worth the winning, in a wretched land, 
Where fear and pain go upon either hand. 
As toward the end men fare without an aim 
Unto the dull grey dark from whence they came : 
Let them alone, the unshadowed sheer rocks stand 
Over the twilight graves of that poor band, 
Who count so little in the great world' s game ! 

Nay, with the dead 1 deal not ; this man lives. 
And that which carried him through good and ill. 
Stern against fate while his voice echoed still 
From rock to rock, now he lies silent, strives 
With wasting time, and through its long lapse gives 
Another friend to me, life's void to fill. 

2. 

In the three volumes of The Earthly Paradise^ published by 
William Morris in 1868-1870, there are three poems which hail 
from Old Norse originals. They are " The Land East of the 
Sun and West of the Moon," and " The Lovers of Gudrun," in 
Vol. II, and " The Fostering of Aslaug," in Vol. III. Of these 
" The Lovers of Gudrun " forms a class by itself ; it is a poem 
to be reckoned with when the dozen greatest poems of the cen- 
tury are listed. The late Laureate may have equalled it in the 
best of the Idylls of the King; but he never excelled it. Let us 
look at it in detail. 

First, be it said that "The Lovers of Gudrun" overtops all 
the other poems in The Earthly Paradise. It would be pos- 
sible to prove that Morris was at his best when he worked with 
Old Norse material, but that task shall not detain us now. It is 
enough to note that the " Prologue " to The Earthly Paradise, 
called " The Wanderers," makes the leader of these wanderers, 
who turn story-tellers when they reach the city by " the borders 
of the Grecian sea," a Norseman. Born in Byzantium of a 
Greek mother, he claimed Norway as his home, and on his 
father's death returned to his kin. His speech to the Elder of 
the City reveals a touching loyalty to his father's home and tradi- 
tions : 

But when I reached one dying autumn-tide 

My uncle's dwelling near the forest-side, 

And saw the land so scanty and so bare, 



40 

And all the hard things men contend with there, 
A little and unworthy land it seemed, 
And yet the more of Asagard I dreamed, 
And worthier seemed the ancient faith of praise. 

Here is the man, William Morris, in perfect miniature. Mod- 
ern life and training had given him a speech and aspect quite 
suave and cultured, but the blood that flowed in his veins was 
red, and the tincture of iron was in it. In religion, in art, in 
poetry, in economics, he loved the past better than the present, 
though he was never unconscious of " our glorious gains." In 
all departments of thought the scanty, the bare, the hard, the un- 
worthy, drew first his attention and then his love and enthusiastic 
praise. And so perhaps it is explained that of all the poems in 
The Earthly Paradise^ the one indited first in the scarred and 
dreadful land where neither wheat nor wine is at home, shall be 
the finest in this latter-day retelling. 

The first seventy years of the thirteenth century were the blos- 
soming time of the historic saga in Iceland, and those writings 
that record the doings of the families of the land form, with the 
old songs and the best of the kingly sagas, the flower of North- 
ern literature. These family records never extend over more 
than one generation, and sometimes they deal with but a few 
years. They are half-way between romance and history, \vith 
the balance oftenest in favor of truth. In this group are found 
Egils Saga^ known at second hand to Warton, the Eyrbyggja 
Saga, translated by Walter Scott^ and the Laxdcela Saga. 
It is the Laxdoela Saga that gives the story told by Morris in 
" The Lovers of Gudrun." Among sagas it is famous for its 
fine portrayal of character. 

The saga and the poem tell the story of two neighboring 
farms, Herdholt and Bathsted, whose sons and daughters work 
out a dire tragedy. Kiartan and Bodli are the son and foster-son 
of the first house, and Gudrun is the daughter of the second. 
These are the principal personages in the drama, though the 
list of the other dramatis persoitce is a long one. Not only in 
the name of its heroine does the story suggest the Nibelungen- 
lied. The machinery of the Norse stories resembles the German 
story's in many of its parts. In this version of Morris, the main 
features of the saga are kept, and distracting details are properly 



41 

subordinated to the principal interest. Through the nineteen 
divisions of this story the interest moves rapidly, and wonder as 
to the issue is never lost. As a story-teller, Morris is distinctly 
powerful in this poem, and all the qualities that endear the story- 
teller to us are here found joined to many that make the poet a 
favorite with us. There are no lyrics in the poem — the original 
saga was without the song-snatches that are often found in sagas — 
but there are dramatic scenes that recall the power of the Master- 
poet. Least of all the poems in the Earthly Paradise does 
"The Lovers of Gudrun" show the Chaucerian influence, and 
the reader must be captious indeed who complains of the length 
of this story. 

To the unenlightened reader this poem reveals no traits that are 
un-English. What there is of Old Norse flavor here is purely 
spiritual. The original story being in prose, no attempt could 
be made to keep original characteristics in verse-form. So " The 
Lovers of Gudrun " can stand on its own merits as an English 
poem ; no excuses need be made for it on the plea that it is a 
translation. 

Local color is not laid on the canvas after the figures have been 
painted, but all the tints in the persons and the things are grandly 
Norse. This story is a true romance, in that the scene is far 
removed from the present day, and the atmosphere is very different 
from our own. This story is a true picture of life, in that it sets 
forth the doings of men and women in the power of the master 
passion. And so for the purposes of literature this poem is not 
Norse, or rather, it is more than Norse, it is universal. Now 
and then, to be sure, the displaced Norse ideals are set forth in 
the poem, but in such wise that we almost regret that the old 
order has passed away. The Wanderer who tells the tale as- 
sures his listeners of the truth of it in these last words of the in- 
terlude between " The Story of Rhodope " and " The Lovers of 
Gudrun " : 

Know withal that we 
Have ever deemed this tale as true to be, 
As though those very Dwellers in Laxdale, 
Risen from the dead had told us their own tale ; 
Who for the rest while yet they dwelt on earth 
Wearied no God with prayers for more of mirth 
Than dying men have ; nor were ill-content 
Because no God beside their sorrow went 



42 

Turning to flowery sward the rock-strewn way, 
Weakness to strength, or darkness into day. 
Therefore, no marvels hath my tale to tell, 
But deals with such things as men know too well ; 
All that I have herein your hearts to move. 
Is but the seed and fruit of bitter love. 

It is aside from our purpose to tell this story here. The more 
we study this marvelous work, the more it is impressed upon us 
that in the reign of love all men and all literatures are one. To 
the Englishman this description of an Iceland maiden is no 
stranger than it was to the men who sat about the spluttering fire 
in the Icelander's hall. It is the form of Gudrun that is here 
described : 

That spring was she just come to her full height, 

Low-bosomed yet she was, and slim and light. 

Yet scarce might she grow fairer from that day ; 

Gold were the locks wherewith the wind did play, 

Finer than silk, waved softly like the sea 

After a three days' calm, and to her knee 

Wellnigh they reached ; fair were the white hands laid 

Upon the door posts where the dragons played ; 

Her brow was smooth now, and a smile began 

To cross her delicate mouth, the snare of man. 

(Earthly Paradise, Vol. II, p. 247.) 

Not less accustomed are we to such heroes as Kiartan : 

And now in every mouth was Kiartan' s name. 
And daily now must Gudrun' s dull ears bear 
Tales of the prowess of his youth to hear. 
While in his cairn forgotten lay her love. 
For this man, said they, all men's hearts did move. 
Nor yet might envy cling to such an one, 
So far beyond all dwellers 'neath the sun ; 
Great was he, yet so fair of face and limb 
That all folk wondered much, beholding him, 
How such a man could be ; no fear he knew. 
And all in manly deeds he could outdo ; 
Fleet-foot, a swimmer strong, an archer good, 
Keen-eyed to know the dark waves' changing mood ; 
Sure on the crag, and with the sword so skilled. 
That when he played therewith the air seemed filled 



43 

With light of gleaming blades ; therewith was he 
Of noble speech, though says not certainly 
My tale, that aught of his he left behind 
With rhyme and measure deftly intertwined. 

(P. 266.) 

The Old Norse touch here is in the last three lines which inti- 
mate that the warrior was often a bard; but be it "remembered 
that the Elizabethan warrior could turn a sonnet, too. 

We have said that the Laxd(xla Saga is famous for its por- 
trayal of character. This English version falls not at all below 
the original in this quality. The lines already quoted show 
Gudrun and Kiartan as to exterior. But this is a drama of flesh 
and blood creations, and they are men and women that move 
through it, not puppets. Souls are laid bare here, in quivering, 
pulsating agony. The tremendous figure of this story is not 
Kiartan, nor Gudrun, nor Refna, but Bodli, and certainly Eng- 
lish narrative poetry has no second creation like to him. The 
mind reverts to Shakespeare to find fit companionship for Bodli 
in poetry, and to George Eliot and Thomas Hardy in prose. 
The suggestion of Shakespearean qualities in George Eliot has 
been made by several great critics, among them Edmond Scherer ; ^ 
in Hardy and Morris, here, we find the same soul-searching 
powers. These writers have created sufferers of titanic great- 
ness, and in the presence of their tragedies we are dumb. 

An English artist has made Napoleon's voyage on H. M. S. 
Bellerofhon to his prison-isle a picture that the memory refuses 
to forget. The picture of Bodli as he sails back to Iceland, 
which, though his home, is to be his prison and his death, is no 
less impressive : 

Fair goes the ship that beareth out Christ's truth 
Mingled of hope, of sorrow, and of ruth. 
And on the prow Bodli the Christian stands. 
Sunk deep in thought of all the many lands 
The world holds, and the folk that dwell therein, 
And wondering why that grief and rage and sin 
Was ever wrought ; but wondering most of all 
Why such wild passion on his heart should fall. 

(P. 294.) 

^Edmond Scherer. Essays on English Literature, p. 309. 



44 

Here we have the poet's conception — and the sagaman's — of 
Bodli — a man in the grip of terrible Fate, who can no more 
swerve from the paths she marks out for him than he can add a 
cubit to his stature. The Greek tragedy embodies this idea, and 
Old Norse literature is full of it. Thomas Hardy gives it later 
in his contemporary novels. We sympathize with Bodli's fate 
because his agony is so terrible, and we call him the most strik- 
ing figure in this story. But the others suffer, too, Gudrun, 
Kiartan, Refna ; they make a stand against their woe, and utter 
brave words in the face of it. Only Bodli floats downward with 
the tide, unresisting. Guest prophesies bitter things for Gudrun, 

but adds : 

Be merry yet ! these things shall not be all 
That unto thee in this thy life shall fall. 

(P. 2S4.) 

And Gudrun takes heart. When Thurid tells her brother 
Kiartan that Gudrun has married another, his joy is shivered 
into atoms before him. But he can say, even then : 

Now is this world clean changed for me 

In this last minute, yet indeed I see 

That still it will go on for all my pain ; 

Come then, my sister, let us back again ; 

I must meet folk, and face the life beyond, 

And, as I may, walk 'neath the dreadful bond 

Of ugly pain — such men our fathers were. 

Not lightly bowed by any weight of care. 

(P.3II-) 
And Kiartan does his work in the world. Poor Refna, when 
she has married Kiartan hears women talking of tlie love that 
still is between Gudrun and Kiartan. She goes to Kiartan with 
the story, beginning with words whose pathos must conquer the 
most stoical of readers : 

Indeed of all thy grief I knew. 
But deemed if still thou saw'st me kind and true. 
Not asking too much, yet not failing aught 
To show that not far off need love be sought, 
If thou shouldst need love — if thou sawest all this. 
Thou wouldst not grudge to show me what a bliss 
Thy whole love was, by giving unto me 
As unto one who loved thee silently. 



45 

Now and again the broken crumbs thereof : 

Alas ! I, having then no part in love, 

Knew not how naught, naught can allay the soul 

Of that sad thirst, but love untouched and whole ! 

Kinder than e'er I durst have hoped thou art, 

Forgive me then, that yet my craving heart 

Is so unsatisfied ; I know that thou 

Art fain to dream that I am happy now, 

And for that seeming ever do I strive ; 

Thy half-love, dearest, keeps me still alive 

To love thee ; and I bless it — but at whiles, — 

(P- 343.) 

And thus she gains strength to live her life. 

Here, then, in Bodli, is another of the great tragic figures in 
literature — a sick man. There are many of them, even in the 
highest rank of literary creations, Hamlet, Lear, Othello, Mac- 
beth ! Wrong-headed, defective as they are, we w^ould not have 
them otherwise. The pearl of greatest price is the result of an 
abnormal or morbid process. 

Bodli comes to us from Icelandic literature, and in that fact we 
note the solidarity of poetic geniuses. Not only is the great 
figure of Bodli proof of this solidarity, but many other features 
of this poem prove it. " Lively feeling for a situation and power 
to express it constitute the poet," said Goethe. There are dra- 
matic situations in "The Lovers of Gudrun" which hold the 
reader in a breathless state till the last word is said, and then 
leave him marveling at the imagination that could conceive the 
scene, and the power that could express it. There are gentler 
scenes, too, in the poem, where beauty and grace are conceived 
as fair as ever poet dreamed, and the workmanship is thoroughly 
adequate. As an example of the first, take the scene of Bodli's 
mourning over Kiartan's dead body. It is here that we get that 
knowledge of Bodli's woe that robs us of a cause against him. 
What agony is that which can speak thus over the body of the 

dead rival ! 

. . . Didst thou quite 
Know all the value of that dear delight 
As I did ? Kiartan, she is changed to thee ; 
Yea, and since hope is dead changed too to me, 
What shall we do, if, each of each forgiven. 
We three shall meet at last in that fair heaven 



46 

The new faith tells of? Thee and God I pray 
Impute it not for sin to me to-day, 
If no thought I can shape thereof but this : 
O friend, O friend, when thee I meet in bliss, 
Wilt thou not give my love Gudrun to me, 
Since now indeed thine eyes made clear can see 
That I of all the world must love her most ? 

(P. 368.) 
Examples of the gentler scenes are scattered lavishly through- 
out the poem and it is not necessary to enumerate. 

One other sigh that the Icelandic sagaman's art was kin to the 
English poet's. The last line of this poem is given thus by 

Morris : 

I did the worst to him I loved the most. 

These are the very words of Gudrun in the saga, and summing 
up as they do her opinion of Kiartan, they stand as a model of 
that compression which is so admired in our poetry. Many such 
multum. in farvo lines are found in Morris' poem, and at times 
they have a beauty that is marvelous. Joined with this quality 
is the special merit of Morris — picturesqueness, and so the reader 
often feels, when he has finished a book by Morris, like the Cook 
tourist after he has "done" a country of Europe — it must be 
done again and again to give it its due. 

Of the other two Old Norse poems in The Earthly Paradise 
not much need be said. " The Land East of the Sun and West 
of the Moon " is a fairy tale, in the strain of Morris' prose ro- 
mances. It was suggested by Thorpe's Tule-tide Stories, the 
tale coming from the Volundar Saga. There is a witchery 
about it that makes it pleasant reading in a dreamy hour, -but ex- 
cept the names and a few scenes about the farmstead, there is 
nothing Icelandic about it. The virile element of the best Ice- 
landic literature is wanting here, and the hero's excuse for leaving 
weapons at home when he goes to his watch is not at all natural : 

Withal 1 shall not see 
Men-folk belike, but faerie. 
And all the arms within the seas 
Should help me naught to deal with these ; 
Rather of such love were I fain 
As fell to Sigurd Fafnir's-bane 
When of the dragon's heart he ate. 
(Vol. II, p. 33.) 



47.. 

This passage is nominally in the same meter as the opening 
lines of the poem : 

In this your land there once did dwell 
A certain carle who lived full well, 
And lacked few things to make him glad ; 
And three fair sons this goodman had. 

According to old time English prosody, it is the same, too, as 
the meter of Scott's Marmion ! 

In the passages quoted from " The Lovers of Gudrun" we see 
a measure called the same as that of Pope's Essay on Man! 
Not seldom in " The Lovers " do we forget that the lines are 
rhymed in twos; indeed, often we do not note the rhyme at all. 
We are sometimes tempted to think that in this piece, if not in 
" The Land East of the Sun," rhyme might have been dispensed 
with altogether, since it often forces archaic words and expres- 
sions into use. But it is to be said generally of Morris's manage- 
ment of the meter in the Old Norse pieces, that it was adequate 
to gain his end always, whether that end was to tell an Old Norse 
story in English, or to carry over an Old Norse spirit into Eng- 
lish. Of this second achievement we shall speak further in con- 
sidering Sigurd the Volsung. 

There is one more tale in The Earthly Paradise which origi- 
nated in Norse legend. "The Fostering of Aslaug " is drawn 
from Thorpe's Northern Mythology^ which epitomizes older 
sources. Aslaug is the daughter of Iceland's great hero, Sig- 
urd, and Iceland's great heroine, Brynhild, and her life is set 
down in this poem most beautifully. Again we note that the 
added touches of later poets fail to leave the sense of the strenu- 
ous in the picture. Aslaug is like a favorite representation of 
Brynhild that we have seen, a lily-maid in aspect, or a Margue- 
rite. Her mother's masculinity is gone, and with it the Old 
Norse flavor. It is the privilege of our age to enjoy both the 
virility of the Old Norse and the delicacy of the mediaeval con- 
ceptions, and William Morris has caught both. 

3- 
In the opening lines of " The Fostering of Aslaug," our poet 
wrote his doubts about his ability to sing the life of Sigurd in be- 
fitting manner. At that time he said : 



■48 

But now have I no heart to raise 
That mighty sorrow laid asleep, 
That love so sweet, so strong and deep. 
That as ye hear the wonder told 
In those few strenuous words of old. 
The whole world seems to rend apart 
When heart is torn away from heart. 
(Vol. Ill, p. 28.) 

It is a common complaint against the poetry of William Morris 
that it is too long-winded. Each to his taste in this matter, but 
we beg to call attention to one line in the above passage : 
In those few strenuous vifords of old. 

Whatever may have been Morris' tendency when he w^rote his 
own poetry, he knew when concision was a virtue in the poetry 
of others. There is no better description of the Volsunga Saga 
than the above line, and William Morris gave the English people 
a literal version of the saga, if mayhap that strenuous paucity 
might translate the old spirit. But, as if he knew that many 
readers would fail to make much of this version, he tried again 
on a larger scale, and the great volume Sigurd the Volsunga 
epic in character and proportions, was the result. Of these two 
we shall now speak. 

The Volsunga Saga was published in 1870, only two years 
after Morris had begun to study Icelandic with Eirikr Magnusson. 
The latter's name is on the title page as the first of the two co- 
translators. The Saga was supplemented by certain songs from 
the Elder Edda which were introduced by the translators at 
points where they would come naturally in the story. The 
work, both in prose and verse, is well done, and the attempt was 
successful to make, as the preface proposes, the " rendering close 
and accurate, and, if it might be so, at the same time, not over 
prosaic." The last two paragraphs of this preface are particu- 
larly interesting to one who is tracing the influence of Old Norse 
literature on English literature, because they are words with 
power, that have stirred men and will stir men to learn more 
about a wonderful land and its lore. We copy them entire : 

"As to the literary quality of this work we might say much, 
but we think we may well trust the reader of poetic insight to 
break through whatever entanglement of strange manners or un- 



49 

used element may at first trouble him, and to meet the nature and 
beauty with which it is filled : we cannot doubt that such a 
reader will be intensely touched by finding, amidst all its wild- 
ness and remoteness, such startling realism, such subtilty, such 
close sympathy with all the passions that may move himself 
to-day. 

" In conclusion, we must again say how strange it seems to us, 
that this Volsung Tale, which is in fact an unversified poem, 
should never before have been translated into English. For this 
is the Great Story of the North, which should be to all our race 
what the Tale of Troy was to the Greeks — to all our race first, 
and afterwards, when the change of the world has made our 
race nothing more than a name of what has been — a story too — 
then should it be to those that come after us no less than the Tale 
of Troy has been to us." 

Morris wrote a prologue in verse for this volume, and it is an 
exquisite poem, such as only he seemed able to indite. So often 
does the reader of Morris come upon gems like this, that one is 
tempted to rail against the common ignorance about him : 

O hearken, ye who speak the English Tongue, 

How in a waste land ages long ago, 
The very heart of the North bloomed into song 

After long brooding o'er this tale of woe ! 



Yea, in the first gray dawning of our race, 

This ruth-crowned tangle to sad hearts was dear. 

So draw ye round and hearken, English Folk, 
Unto the best tale pity ever wrought ! 

Of how from dark to dark bright Sigurd broke. 
Of Brynhild' s glorious soul with love distraught, 
Of Gudrun's weary wandering unto naught. 

Of utter love defeated utterly. 

Of Grief too strong to give Love time to die ! 

4- 
Six years later, in 1877 (English edition), Morris published 
the long poem. The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and The Fall 
of the Ntblungs, and in it gave the peerless crown of all Eng- 



50 

lish poems springing from Old Norse sources. The poet con- 
sidered this his most important work, and he was prouder of it 
than of any other literary work that he did. One w^ho studies it 
can understand this pride, but he cannot understand the neglect 
by the reading public of this remarkable poem. The history of 
book-selling in the last decade shows strange revivals of interest 
in authors long dead ; it will be safe to prophesy such a revival 
for William Morris, because valuable treasures will not always 
remain hidden. In his case, however, it will not be a revival, 
because there has not been an awakening yet. That awakening 
must come, and thousands will see that William Morris was a 
great poet who have not yet heard of his name. Let us look at 
his greatest work with some degree of minuteness. 

The opening lines are a good model of the meter, and we find 
it different from any that we have considered so far. There are 
certain peculiarities about it that make it seem a perfect medium 
for translating the Old Norse spirit. Most of these peculiarities 
are in the opening lines, and so we may transfer them to this 
page : ^ 

There was a dwelling of Kings ere the world was waxen old ; 

Dakes were the door- wards there, and the roofs were thatched with 

gold ; 
Earls were the wrights that wrought it, and silver nailed its doors ; 
Earls' wives were the weaving-women, queens' daughters strewed its 

floors, 
And the masters of its song-craft were the mightiest men that cast 
The sails of the storm of battle adown the bickering blast. 

Everybody knows that alliteration was a principle of Icelandic 
verse. It strikes the ear that hears Icelandic poetry for the first 
time — or the eye that sees it, since most of us read it silently — as 
unpleasantly insistent, but on fuller acquaintance, we lose this 
sense of obtrusiveness. Morris, in this poem, uses alliteration, 
but so skilfully that only the reader that seeks it discovers it. A 
less superb artist would have made it stick out in every line, so 
that the device would be a hindrance to the story-telling. As it 
is, nowhere in the more than nine thousand lines of Sigurd 
the Volsung is this alliteration an excrescence, but everywhere 
it is woven into the grand design of a fabric vvhich is the richer 
for its foreign workmanship. 

'Citations are from the 3d edition. Boston. 1881. 



51 

Notice that duke and battle and master are the only words not 
thoroughly Teutonic. This overwhelming predominance of the 
Anglo-Saxon element over the French is in keeping with the 
original of the story. Of course it is an accident that so small a 
proportion of Latin derivatives is found in these six lines, but 
the fact remains that Morris set himself to tell a Teutonic story 
in Teutonic idiom. That idiom is not very strange to present- 
day readers, indeed we may say it has but a' fillip of strangeness. 
Archaisms are characteristic of poetic diction, and those found in 
this poem that are not common to other poetry are used to gain 
an Old Norse flavor. The following words taken from Book I 
of the poem are the only unfamiliar ones : benight, meaning 
" at night " ; "so win the long years over " ; eel-grig ; sackless ; 
bursten,, a participle. The compounds door-ward and song- 
craft are representative of others that are sprinkled in fair num- 
ber through the poem. They are the best that our language can 
do to reproduce the fine combinations that the Icelandic language 
formed so readily. English lends itself well to this device, as 
the many compounds show that Morris took from common usage. 
Such words as roof-tree, song-craft, empty-handed, grave- 
mound, store-house, taken at random from the pages of this 
poem, show that the genius of our language permits such forma- 
tions. When Morris carries the practice a little further, and 
makes for his poem such words as door-ward, chance-hap, 
slumber-tide, troth-word, God-home, and a thousand others, he 
is not taking liberties with the language, and he is using a power- 
ful aid in translating the Old Norse spirit. 

One more peculiar characteristic of Icelandic is admirably ex- 
hibited in this poem. We have seen that Warton recognized in 
the " Runic poets " a warmth of fancy which expressed itself in 
" circumlocution and comparisons, not as a matter of necessity, 
but of choice and skill." Certainly Morris in using these cir- 
cumlocutions in Sigurd the Volsung, has exercised remarkable 
skill in weaving them into his story. Like the alliterations, they 
are parji of an harmonious design. Examples abound, like : 

Adown unto the swan-bath the Volsung Children ride ; 

and this other for the same thing, the sea : 

While sleepeth the fields of the fishes amidst the summer-tide. 



52 

Still others for the water are swan-mead^ and " bed-gear of the 
swan." 

' ' The serpent of death" and war-Jlame, for sword ; earth- 
bone^ for rock ; Jight-sheaves^ for armed hosts ; seaburg^ for 
boats, are other striking examples. 

So much for the mechanical details of this poem. Its literary 
features are so exceptional that we must examine them at length. 

Book I is entitled " Sigmund" and the description is set at the 
head of it. " In this book is told of the earlier days of the Vol- 
sungs, and of Sigmund the father of Sigurd, and of his deeds, 
and of how he died while Sigurd was yet unborn in his mother's 
womb." 

There are many departures from the Volsunga Saga in this 
poetic version, and all seem to be accounted for by a desite to im- 
press present-day readers with this story. The poem begins 
with Volsung, omitting, therefore, the marvelous birth of that 
king and the oath of the unborn child to " flee in fear from 
neither fire nor the sword." The ?aga makes the wolf kill one 
of Volsung's sons every night ; the poem changes the number to 
two. A magnificent scene is invented by Morris in the midnight 
visit of Signy to the wood where her brothers had been slain. 
She speaks to the brother that is left, desiring to know what he 
is doing : 

O yea, I am living indeed, and this labor of mine hand 
Is to bury the bones of the Volsungs ; and lo, it is well nigh done. 
So draw near, Volsung's daughter, and pile we many a stone 
Where lie the gray wolf's gleanings of what was once so good. 

(P- 23.) 
The dialogue of brother and sister is a mighty conception, and 
surely the old Icelanders would have called Morris a rare singer. 
Sigmund tells the story of the deaths of his brothers, adding : 

But now was I wroth with the Gods, that had made the Volsungs for 

nought ; 
And I said : in the Day of their Doom a man's help shall they miss. 

(P. 24.) 

But Signy is reconciled to the workings of Fate : 

I am nothing so wroth as thou art with the ways of death and hell. 
For thereof had I a deeming when all things were seeming well. 



53 

The day to come shall set their woes right : 

There as thou drawest thy sword, thou shalt think- of the days that were 

And the foul shall still seem foul, and the fair shall still seem fair ; 

But thy wit shall then be awakened, and thou shalt know indeed 

Why the brave man's spear is broken, and his war shield fails at need ; 

Why the loving is unbeloved ; why the just man falls from his state ; 

Why the liar gains in a day what the soothfast strives for late. 

Yea, and thy deeds shalt thou know, and great shall thy gladness be ; 

As a picture all of gold thy life-days shalt thou see, 

And know that thou wert a God to abide through the hurry and haste ; 

A God in the golden hall, a God in the rain-swept waste, 

A God in the battle triumphant, a God on the heap of the slain : 

And thine hope shall arise and blossom, and thy love shall be quickened 

again : 
And then shalt thou see before thee the face of all earthly ill ; 
Thou shalt drink of the cup of awakening that thine hand hath holpen 

to fill ; 
By the side of the sons of Odin shalt thou fashion a tale to be told 
In the hall of the happy Baldur. 

(P. 25.) 

In this wise one Christian might hearten another to accept the 
dealings of Providence to-day. While we do not think that a 
worshipper of Odin would have spoken all these words, they are 
not an undue exaggeration of the noblest traits of the old Ice- 
landic religion. 

The poem does not record the death of Siggeir's and Signy's 
son, though the saga does. Morris adds a touch when he makes 
the imprisoned men exult over the sword that Signy drops into 
their grave, and he also puts into the mouth of Siggeir in the 
burning hall words that the saga does not contain. The poem 
says that the women of the Gothf oik were permitted to retire from 
the burning hall, but the saga has no such statement. The war of 
foul words between Granmar and Sinfjotli is left in the saga, and 
the cause of Gudrod's death is changed from rivalry over a 
woman to anger over a division of war booty. In Sigmund's 
lament over his childlessness we have another of the poet's addi- 
tions, and certainly we find no fault with the liberty : 

The tree was stalwart, but its boughs are old and worn. 
Where now are the children departed, that amidst my life were born ? 
I know not the men about me, and they know not of my ways : 



54 

I am nought but a picture of battle, and a song for the people to praise. 
I must strive with the deeds of my kingship, and yet when mine hour 

is come 
It shall meet me as glad as the goodman when he bringeth the last 

load home. 

(P. 56.) 

When the great hero dies, Morris puts into his mouth another 
of the magnificent speeches that are the glory of this poem. 
Four lines from it must suffice : 

When the gods for one deed asked me I ever gave them twain ; 
Spendthrift of glory I was, and great was my life-day's gain. 

Our wisdom and valour have kissed, and thine eyes shall see the fruit. 
And the joy for his days that shall be hath pierced my heart to the 
root. 

(P. 62.) 

It appears from this study of Book I that Sigurd the Volsung 
has adapted the saga story to our civilization and our art, hold- 
ing to the best of the old and supplementing it by new that is 
ever in keeping with the old. Other instances of this eclectic 
habit may be seen in the other three books, but we shall quote 
from these for other purposes. 

Book II is entitled " Regin." " Now this is the first book of 
the life and death of Sigurd the Volsung, and therein is told of 
the birth of him, and of his dealings with Regin the Master of 
Masters, and of his deeds in the waste places of the earth." 

Morris was deeply read in Old Norse literature, and out of his 
stores of knowledge he brought vivifying details for this poem. 
Such, for instance, is the description of Sigurd's eyes, not found 
just here in the saga : 

In the bed there lieth a man-child, and his eyes look straight on the 
sun. 



Yet they shrank in their rejoicing before the eyes of the child. 

In the naming of the child by an ancient name, the meaning 
of that name is indicated : 

O Sigurd, Son of the Volsungs, O Victory yet to be ! 
The festivities over the birth of the child are wonderfully 



55 

described in the brief lines, and they are a picture out of another 
book than the saga : 

Earls think of marvellous stories, and along the golden strings 
FHt words of banded brethren and names of war- fain Kings. 

Over and over again in this poem Morris records the Icelanders' 
desire "to leave a tale to tell," and here are Sigurd's words to 
Regin who has been egging him on to deeds : 

Yet I know that the world is wide, and filled with deeds unwrought ; 
And for e'en such work was I fashioned, lest the songcraft come to 

nought. 
When the harps of God-home tinkle, and the Gods are at stretch to 

hearken : 
Lest the hosts of the Gods be scanty when their day hath begun to 

darken. (P. 82.) 

In Book II we have other great speeches that the poet has put 
into the mouth of his characters with little or no justification in 
the original saga. Chap. XIV of the saga contains Regin's tale 
of his brothers, and of the gold called " Andvari's Hoard," 
and that tale is severely brief and plain. The account in the 
poem is expanded greatly, and the conception of Regin materially 
altered. In the saga he was not the discontented youngest son of 
his father, prone to talk of his woes and to lament his lot. In 
the poem he does this in so eloquent a fashion that almost we are 
persuaded to sympathize with him. Certainly his lines were hard, 
to have outlived his great deeds, and to hear his many inventions 
ascribed to the gods. The speech of the released Odin to Reid- 
mar is modeled on Job's conception of omnipotence, and it is 
one of the memorable parts of this book. Gripir's prophecy, 
too, is a majestic work, and its original was three sentences in 
the saga and the poem Grifisspd in the heroic songs of the 
Edda. Here Morris rises to the heights of Sigurd's greatness : 

Sigurd, Sigurd ! O great, O early born ! 
O hope of the Kings first fashioned ! O blossom of the morn ! 
Short day and long remembrance, fair summer of the North ! 
One day shall the worn world wonder how first thou wentest forth ! 

(P. III.) 

Those who have read William Morris know that he is a master 
of nature description. The " Glittering Heath " offered a fine 



56 

opportunity for this sort of work, and in this piece we have 
another departure from the saga. Morris made hundreds of 
pictures in this poem, but the pages describing the journey to 
the " Glittering Heath " are packed with them to an extraordinary 
degree. Here is Iceland in very fact, all dust and ashes to the 
eye : 

More changeless than mid-ocean, as fruitless as its iloor. 

We confess that there is something in the scene that holds us, 
all shorn of beauty though it is. We do not want to go the 
length of Thomas Hardy, however, who, in that wonderful first 
chapter of The Return of the Native has a similar heath to 
describe. " The new vale of Tempe," says he, " may be a 
gaunt waste in Thule : human souls may find themselves in closer 
and closer harmony with external things wearing a sombreness 
distasteful to our race when it was young. . . . The time seems 
near, if it has not actually arrived, when the mournful sublimity of 
a moor, a sea, or a mountain, will be all of nature that is absolutely 
consonant with the moods of the more thinking among mankind. 
And ultimately, to the commonest tourist, spots like Iceland may 
become what the vineyards and myrtlegardens of South Europe 
are to him now." Is it not a suggestive thought that England 
and the nineteenth century evolved a pessimism which poor Ice- 
land on its ash-heap never could conceive ? William Morris was 
an Icelander, not an Englishman, in his philosophy. 

In this same scene, a notable deviation from the saga is the 
conversation betw^een Regin and Sigurd concerning the relations 
that shall be between them after the slaying of Fafnir. Here 
Morris impresses the lesson of Regin's greed, taking the un-Ice- 
landic device of preaching to serve his purpose : 

Let it lead thee up to heaven, let it lead thee down to hell, 

The deed shall be done tomorrow : thou shall have that measureless 

Gold, 
And devour the garnered wisdom that blessed thy realm of old, 
That hath lain unspent and begrudged in the very heart of hate : 
With the blood and the might of thy brother thine hunger shalt thou 

sate : 
And this deed shall be mine and thine ; but take heed for what fol- 

loweth then ! 

(P. 119.) 



57 

In still another place has Morris departed far from the saga 
story. According to the poem, "Sigurd meets each warning of 
Fafnir that the gold will be the curse of its possessor with the 
assurance that he will cast the gold abroad, and let none of it 
cling to his fingers. The saga, however, has this very frank con- 
fession : ' ' Home would I ride and lose all that wealth, if I 
deemed that by the losing thereof I should never die ; but every 
brave and true man will fain have his hand on wealth till that 
last day.'' Here, again, we see an adaptation of the story of the 
poem to modern conceptions of nobility. It remains to be said 
that the ernes move Sigurd to take the gold for the gladdening of 
the world, and they assure him that a son of the Volsung had 
nought to fear from the Curse. The seven-times-repeated " Bind 
the red rings, O Sigurd," is an admirable poem, but it does not 
contain information concerning Brynhild, as do the strophes of 
Reginsmdl which are the model for this lay. 

Let us look at the art of Morris as it is shown in telling " How 
Sigurd awoke Brynhild upon Hindfell." As in the saga, so in 
the English poem, this incident has a setting most favorable to 
the display of its remarkable beauties. It is a picture as pure 
and sweet as it has ever entered into the mind of man to conceive. 
The conception belongs to the poetic lore of many nations, and 
children are early introduced to the story of " Sleeping Beauty." 
There are some features of the Old Norse version that are especi- 
ally charming, and first among them is the address of the awak- 
ened Brynhild to the sun and the earth. We are told that this 
maiden loved the radiant hero that here awoke her from her 
age-long sleep, but not for him is her first greeting. A finer 
thrill moves her than love for a man, and in Morris's poem, this 
feeling finds singularly beautiful expression : 
All hail O Day and thy Sons, and thy kin of the coloured things ! 
Hail, following Night, and thy Daughter that leadeth thy wavering 

wings ! 
Look down with unangry eyes on us today alive. 
And give us the hearts victorious, and the gain for which we strive ! 
All hail, ye Lords of God-home, and ye Queens of the House of Gold ! 
Hail thou dear Earth that bearest, and thou Wealth of field and fold ! 
Give us, your noble children, the glory of wisdom and speech. 
And the hearts and the hands of healing, and the mouths and hands 

that teach ! 

(P. 140.) 



58 

In order to see just what the art of Morris has done for this poem, 
let us compare this address with the rendering of the Sigrdri- 
fumdl, which tell the same story and which Morris and Magnus- 
son have incorporated into their translation of the Volsunga 
Saga. The verses are not in the original saga : 

Hail to the day come back ! 

Hail, sons of the daylight ! 
Hail to thee, dark night, and thy daughter ! 

Look with kind eyes a-down. 

On us sitting here lonely, 
And give unto us the gain that we long for. 

Hail to the ^sir. 

And the sweet Asyniur ! 
Hail to the fair earth fulfilled of plenty ! 

Fair words, wise hearts. 

Would we win from you. 
And healing hands while life we hold. 

To get the full benefit of the comparison of the old and the 
new, let us set in conjunction with these versions a severely 
literal translation of the Edda strophes themselves : 

Hail, O Day, 

Hail, O Sons of the Day, 

Hail Night and kinswoman ! 

With unwroth eyes 

look on us here 

and give to us sitting ones victory. 

Hail, O Gods, 

Hail, O Goddesses, 

Hail, O bounteous Earth ! 

Speech and wisdom 

give to us, the excellent twain, 

and healing hands during life. 

These stages in the progress of the gold from mine to mint fur- 
nish their own commentary. The finished product will pass 
current with the most exacting of assayers, as well as gladden 
the hearts of the poor one whose hand seldom touches gold. 

If the skill of the poet in this case have merited resemblance 
to that of the refiner of gold, what name less than alchemy can 
characterize his achievement in the rest of this scene ? From the 
first words of Brynhild's life-story : 



59 

I am she that loveth ; I was born of the earthly folk ; 

to the tender words that tell of the coming of another day • 

And fresh and all abundant abode the deeds of Day, 

there is a succession of beautiful scenes and glorious speeches 
such as only a master of magic could have gotten out of the 
original story. The Eddaic account of the Valkyr's disobedience 
to All-Father, pictures a saucy and self-willed maiden. Sentence 
has been pronounced upon her, and thus the story continues : 
" But I said I would vow a vow against it, and marry no man 
that knew fear." The Volsunga Saga gives exactly the saine 
account, but the poetic version of Morris saves the maiden for 
our respect and admiration. It is not effrontery, but repentance 
that speaks in the voice of Brynhild here : 

The thoughts of my heart overcame me, and the pride of my wisdom 
and speech. 
And I scorned the earth-folk's Framer, and the Lord of the world I 
must teach. 

In the Icelandic version, Odin makes no speech at the dooming, 
but Morris puts into his mouth this magnificent address : 

And he cried: "Thou hast thought in thy folly that the Gods have 

friends and foes, 
That they wake, and the world wends onward, that they sleep, and 

the world slips back, 
That they laugh, and the world's weal waxeth, that they frown and 

fashion the wrack : 
Thou hast cast up the curse against me ; it shall aback on thine head ; 
Go back to the sons of repentance, with the children of sorrow wed ! 
For the Gods are great unholpen, and their grief is seldom seen, 
And the wrong that they will and must be is soon as it hath not been." 

(P. 141.) 
Morris has here again exercised the poet's privilege of adding 
to the story that w^as the pride of an entire age, in order to serve 
his own the better. If he was wise in these additions, he was 
no less wise in subtractions and in preservations. The saga has 
a long address by Brynhild, opening with mystical advice con- 
cerning the power of runes, and closing grandly with wise 
words that sound like a page from the Old Testament. The 
former find no place in Sigurd the Volsunga but the latter are 



60 

turned into mighty phrases that wonderfully preserve the spirit 
of the original. 

One passage more from Book II : 

So they climb the burg of Hindfell, and hand in hand they fare, 

Till all about and above them is nought but the sunlit air, 

And there close they cling together rejoicing in their mirth ; 

For far away beneath them lie the kingdoms of the earth, 

And the garths of men-folk's dwellings and the streams that water 

them, 
And the rich and plenteous acres, and the silver ocean's hem, 
And the woodland wastes and the mountains, and all that holdeth all ; 
The house and the ship and the island, the loom and the mine and the 

stall. 
The beds of bane and healing, the crafts that slay and save. 
The temple of God and the Doom-ring, the cradle and the grave. 

(P. 145.) 
These ten lines serve to illustrate very well one of the most re- 
markable powers of Morris. Just consider for a moment the 
number of details that are crowded into this picture, and then 
notice how few are the strokes required to put them there. For 
this rapid painting of a crowded canvas Morris is second to none 
among English poets. This power to put a whole landscape or 
a complex personality into a few lines is the direct outcome of 
his study of Old Norse literature. Icelandic poetry is character- 
ized by this quality. One has but to compare the account of the 
end of the world as it is found in the last strophes of Voluspd, 
or in the Prose Edda, with the similar account in Revelations to 
see how much two languages may differ in this respect. It 
would seem as if the short verses characteristic of Icelandic poetry 
forbade lengthy descriptions. The effect must be produced by a 
number of quick strokes : there is never time to go over a line 
once made. A simile is never elaborated, a new one is made 
when the poet wishes to insist on the figure. Take the second 
strophe of the ' ' Ancient Lay of Gudrun " as an example, in the 
translation by Morris and Magnusson : 

Such was my Sigurd 
Among the Sons of Giuki 
As is the green leek 
O'er the low grass waxen, 



61 

Or a hart high-limbed 
Over hurrying deer, 
Or gleed-red gold 
Over grey silver. 

That is the Icelandic fashion ; William Morris has caught it in 
the Story of Sigurd. Matthew Arnold has not seen fit to use it 
in his " Balder Dead," as these lines show : 

Him the blind Hoder met, as he came up 
. From the sea cityward, and knew his step ; 
Nor yet could Hermod see his brother's face, 
For it grew dark ; but Hermod touched his arm. 
And as a spray of honeysuckle flowers 
Brushes across a tired traveller's face 
Who shuffles thro the deep-moistened dust. 
On a May-evening, in the darkened lanes, 
And starts him that he thinks a ghost went by — 
So Hoder brushed by Hermod' s side. 

These are noble lines, but altogether foreign to Icelandic. 

Book III opens with the dream of Gudrun and Brynhild'sin- 
terpretation of it. This matter is managed in accordance with 
our own standards of art, and thus differs materially ^from the 
saga story. In the latter a most naive procedure is adopted, for 
Brynhild prophesies that Sigurd shall leave her for Gudrun, 
through Grimhild's guile, that strife shall come between them, 
and that Sigurd shall die and Gudrun wed Atli. The whole 
later story is thus revealed. This is not a story-teller's art, but 
it sets clear the Old Norse acceptance of fate's dealings. Of 
course Morris' poetic action explains the dream perfectly, but the 
details are not so frankly given. 

" Thou shalt live and love and lose, and mingle in murder and 
war," is the gist of Brynhild's message, and the whole future 
history is there. 

This poem has often been called an epic, and certainly there 
are many epical characteristics in it. One of them is the recur- 
rence of certain formulae, and in Books III and IV these are 
rather more abundant than in the first two books. Thus the 
sword of Sigurd is praised in the same words, again and again : 

It hath not its like in the heavens nor has earth of its fellow told. 

Then, there is the " cloudy hall-roof " of the Niblungs. Gudrun 



62 

is "the white-armed"; Grimhild is "the wisest of women"; 
Hogni is the " wise-heart" ; the Niblungs are " the Cloudy Peo- 
ple" ; their beds are "blue-covered"; "the Godson the hang- 
ings " is an expression that recurs very often, and it recalls the 
fact that Morris was an artisan as well as an artist. 

In the preceding books we have noted that Morris lengthened 
the saga story in his poem by the introduction of speeches that 
find no place in the original. In this book we see another length- 
ening process, which, with that already noted, goes far to account 
for the difference in bulk between the saga and the poem. Chap. 
XXVI of the saga, tells in less than a thousands words how 
Sigurd comes to the Giukings and is wedded to Gudrun. His 
reception is told in one hundred words ; his abode with the Giuk- 
ings is set forth in even fewer words ; Grimhild's plotting and 
administering of the drugged drink are told in two hundred 
words ; his acceptance of Gudrun's hand and her brother's alle- 
giance are as tersely pictured ; kingdoms are conquered, a son 
is born to Sigurd, and Grimhild plots to have Sigurd get Bryn- 
hild for her son Gunnar, yet the record of it all is compressed 
within one hundred and fifty words. Of course, the modern 
poet can hem himself within no such narrow bounds as this. The 
artistic value of these various incidents is priceless, and Morris 
has lingered upon them lovingly and long. He spreads the story 
over forty pages, or a thousand lines, and I avow, after a third 
reading of these three sections of the poem, that I would spare 
no line of them. How we love this Sigurd of the poet's paint- 
ing ! And what a noble gospel he proclaims to the Giukings : 

For peace I bear unto thee, and to all the kings of the earth, 

Who bear the sword aright, and are crowned with the crown of worth ; 

But unpeace to the lords of evil, and the battle and the death ; 

And the edge of the sword to the traitor, and the flame to the slan- 
derous breath : 

And I would that the loving were loved, and I would that the weary 
should sleep, 

And that man should hearken to man, and that he that soweth should 
reap. (P. 174.) 

Here, by the way, is the burden of Morris's preaching in the 
cause of a better society. It recurs a few pages further on in 
the poem, where the Niblungs bestow praise on this new hero : 



63 

And they say, when the sun of summer shall come aback to the land. 
It shall shine on the fields of the tiller that fears no heavy hand ; 
That the sleep shall be for the plougher, and the loaf for him that 

sowed. 
Through every furrowed acre where the Son of Sigmund rode. 

(P. 178.) 

It need hardly be remarked that this Sigurd is not the saga- 
man's ideal. The Icelanders never evolved such high concep- 
tions of man's obligations to man, but in their ignorance they 
were no worse off than their continental brethren, for these forgot 
their greatest Teacher's teaching, and modern social science must 
point them back to it. 

Tliis Sigurd that we love becomes the Sigurd that we pity in 
the drinking of a draught. Sorrow takes the place of joy in his 
life, and " the soul is changed in him," so that men may say 
that on this day they saw him die the first time, w^ho was to die 
a second time by Guttorm's sword. Gloom spreads over all the 
earth with the quenching of Sigurd's joy : 

In the deedless dark he rideth, and all things he remembers save one, 
And nought else hath he care to remember of all the deeds he hath 
done. 

Here is illustrated the essential difference between the saga- 
man's art and the modern story-teller's. The Icelander must tell 
his story in haste ; the deeds of men are his care, not their diva- 
gations nor their psychologizings. The modern writer must 
linger on every step in the story until the motive and the mean- 
ing are laid bare. In the present-day version Sigurd's mental 
sufferings are described at length, and our hearts are wrung at 
his unmerited woes. The saga knows no such woes, and to all 
appearance Sigurd's life is not unhappy to its very end. Indeed, 
it appears in more than one place in Morris's poem that Sigurd 
has become godlike through the hard experiences of his life. 
Take this passage as an illustration : 

So is Sigurd yet with the Niblungs, and he loveth Gudrun his wife. 
And wendeth afield with the brethren to the days of the dooming of 

life; 
And nought his glory waneth, nor falleth the flood of praise : 
To every man he hearkeneth, nor gainsayeth any grace, 



64 

And glad is the poor in the Doom-ring when he seeth his face mid the 

Kings, 
For the tangle straighteneth before him, and the maze of crooked 

things. 

But the smile is departed from him, and the laugh of Sigurd the young, 

And of few words now is he waxen, and his songs are seldom sung. 

Howbeit of all the sad-faced was Sigurd loved the best ; 

And men say : Is the king's heart mighty beyond all hope of rest ? 

Lo, how he beareth the people ! how heavy their woes are grown ! 

So oft were a God mid the Goth-folk, if he dwelt in the world alone. 

(P. 205.) 

I 
Set this by the side of the saga : " This is truer," says Sigurd, 

" that I loved thee better than myself, though I fell into the wiles 
from whence our lives may not escape ; for whenso my own 
heart and mind availed me, then I sorrowed sore that thou wert 
not my wife ; but as I might I put my trouble from me, for in a 
king's dwelling was I ; and withal and in spite of all I was well 
content that we were all together. Well may it be, that that 
shall come to pass which is foretold ; neither shall I fear the ful- 
filment thereof." ( Volsunga Saga^ Chap. XXIX.) These 
words are spoken to Brynhild after she has discovered what she 
regards as Sigurd's treachery. His words are dictated by a 
noble resignation to fate, but his very next remark shows a moral 
meanness not at all in keeping with Morris's conception. Sigurd 
said : " This my heart would, that thou and I should go into one 
bed together ; even so wouldst thou be my wife." 

There have been many griefs depicted in this poem, but surely 
here are set forth the most pitiless of them all. The guile-w^on 
Brynhild travels in state to the Cloudy Hall of the Niblungs, and 
the whole people come out to meet her. They are astonished at 
her beauty, and give her cordial greeting and welcome to her 
husband's house. Proud and majestic, the marvelous woman 
steps from her golden wain, and gives friendly but passionless 
greeting to Gunnar as she places her hand in his. For each of 
Gunnar's brothers she has a kindly word, as she has for Grim- 
hild, too. She asks to see the foster-brother of whom such won- 
drous tales are told, and whose name she heard from Gunnar's 
lips with never a tremor — ' ' Sigurd, the Volsung, the best man 
ever born." Grimhild stands between them for a time, but the 



65 

meeting has to come. Then Brynhild remembers, and Sigurd 
sees the unveiled past : , 

Her heart ran back through the years, and yet her hps did move 
With the words she spake on Hindfell, when they phghted troth of love. 

His face is exceeding glorious and awful to behold ; 

For of all his sorrow he knoweth and his hope smit dead and cold : 

For the will of the Norns is accomplished, and outworn is Grimhild's 

spell 
And nought now shall blind or help him, and the tale shall be to tell. 

(P. 226.) 
There's the note of the whole history — the will of the Norns 
and the note of a whole Northern literature, as it is of a whole 
Southern literature. Man, the puppet, in the hands of Fate; 
however man may think and reason and assure himself that the 
dispensation of Fate is just, the supreme moment of realization 
will always be a tragedy : 

He hath seen the face of Brynhild, and he knows why she hath come. 
And that his is the hand that hath drawn her to the Cloudy People's 

home : 
He knows of the net of the days, and the deeds that the Gods have bid, 
And no whit of the sorrow that shall be from his wakened soul is hid. 

(P. 226.) 

In such an hour, what are conquests of a glorious past, what 
are honors, crowns, loves, hates.'' The mind can think of little 
matters only : 

His heart speeds back to Hindfell, and the dawn of the wakening day ; 
And the hours betwixt are as nothing, and their deeds are fallen away. 

(P. 226.) 

Is aught to be said to one in such a crisis, the words are weak 
and commonplace. There is Brynhild's greeting to Sigurd : 

If aught thy soul shall desire while yet thou livest on earth, 
I pray that thou mayst win it, nor forget its might and worth. 

The shattered mind of Sigurd tries to grasp the meaning of the 
harmless words, and like common sounds that are so fearful in 
the night, the phrases assume a terrible import : 

All grief, sharp scorn, sore longing, stark death in her voice he knew. 



66 

Then again comes the dominant note of this story : 

Gone forth is the doom of the Norns, and what shall be answer 
thereto, 
While the death that amendeth lingers ? 

Here is a hint of the end of all — " the death that amendeth," and 
from this point to the end of the story there is no gleam of hap- 
piness for anyone. 

Book IV brings to a majestic close this mighty history. We 
have dwelt so long on the wonderful poetry of the other books 
that we must refrain from further comment in this strain. As 
we read these eloquent imaginings, we regret that the English 
reading public have left this work through fear of its great length 
or the ignorance of its existence, in the dust of half-forgotten 
shelves. Gold disused is true gold none the less, and the ages to 
come may be more appreciative than the present. 

For the sake of rounding out this story, be it noted concerning 
this Book IV, that the poet has taken liberties with the saga 
story here, as elsewhere. Motives more easily understood in our 
day are assigned for the deeds of dread that throng these closing 
scenes. Gudrun weds King Atli at her mother's bidding, and 
under the influence of a wicked potion, but neither mother nor 
magic drives the memory of Sigurd from her mind. She lives to 
bring destruction upon her husband's murderers, and those mur- 
derers are her own flesh and blood. Through her appeals to 
Atli's greed, and throtigh Knefrud's lies in the Niblung court, 
the visit of her proud brothers to her pliant husband is brought 
about. The saga makes Atli the arch-plotter, and the motive his 
desire to possess the gold. This sentence exculpates Gudrun 
from any wrong intention towards her brothers : ' ' Now the 
queen wots of their conspiring, and misdoubts her that this 
would mean some beguiling of her brethren." (Chap. XXXIV.) 
In Chap. XXXVIII, we are told that Gudrun fights on the side 
of her brothers. We see at once the superiority of the poet's 
motive for a modern tragedy. 

It is impressed upon the reader of an epic that the plan of its 
maker does not call for fine analysis of character. The epic 
poet is concerned necessarily with large considerations, and his 
personages do not split hairs from the south to the southeast side. 
One sign of this is seen in the epic formulae employed to charac- 



67 

terize the personages of the story. Such formula are in Sigurd 
the Volsung in abundance, as we have noted on another page. 
But there are also many departures from the epic model in this 
poem. Some of these we have referred to in the remarks on 
Book III, where we noted Sigurd's mental sufferings. In Book 
IV we have a discrimination of character that is not epic, but 
dramatic in its minuteness. In the speech and the deeds of the 
Niblungs their pride and selfishness is clearly set forth, but the 
individual members .of that race are distinguished by traits very 
minutely drawn. Thus Hogni is the wary Niblung, and is 
averse to accepting Atli's invitation : 

' ' I know not, I know not, ' ' said Hogni, ' ' but an unsure bridge is the 

sea, 
And such would I oft were builded betwixt my foeman and me. 
I know a sorrow that sleepeth, and a wakened grief I know, 
And the torment of the mighty is a strong and fearful foe." 

(P. 281.) 

Gunnar is here distinguished as a hypocrite by w^ord and deed ; 
Gudrun remembers Sigurd in her exile and schemes and plots to 
make her husband Atli work her vengeance on the Niblungs ; 
Atli is greedy for gold and Gudrun's task is not hard ; Knefrud 
is a liar whose words are winning, and overcome the scruples of 
the Niblungs. In these careful discriminations of character we 
see a non-epical trait, and of necessity therefore, a non-Icelandic 
trait. The sagaman was epic in his tone. 

As a last appreciation of the art of William Morris as it is 
displayed in this poem, we would call attention to the tremendous 
battle-piece entitled " Of the Battle in Atli's Hall." It is the 
climax of this marvelous poem, and in no detail is it inadequate 
to its place in the work. The poet's constructive power is here 
demonstrated to be of the highest order, and in the majestic 
sweep of events that is here depicted, we see the poet in his 
original role of maker. The sagaman's skill had not the power 
to conceive this titanic drama, and the memory of his battle- 
piece is quite effaced by the modern invention. In blood and fire ■ 
the story comes to an end with Gudrun, 

The white and silent woman above the slaughter set. 
As we turn from the scene and the book, that figure fades not 



away. And it is fitting that the last memory of this poem 
should be a picture of love and hate, inextricably bound together, 
for that is the irony of Fate, and Fate was mistress of the Old 
Norseman's world. 

5- 

Between the great works dealt with in the last two sections, 
which belong together and were therefore so considered, came 
the book of 1875, bearing the title Three Northern Love Stories 
and Other 7 ales. It is as good a representation as Iceland can 
make in the love-story class. 

These tales are charmingly told in the translation of Morris 
and Magnusson, the second one, " Frithiof the Bold," being a 
master-piece in its kind. Men will dare much for the love of a 
woman, and that is why the sagaman records love episodes at 
all. Frithiof's voyage to the Orkneys in Chap. VI is a storm- 
piece that vies with anything of its kind in modern literature. 
It is Norse to the core, and we love the peerless young hero who 
forgets not his manhood in his chagrin of defeat at love. Surely 
there is fitness in these outbursts of song in moments of extreme 
exultation or despair ! ' ' And he sang withal : 

" Helgi it is that helpeth 

The white-head billows' waxing ; 

Cold time unlike the kissing 

In the close of Baldur's Meadow ! 

So is the hate of Helgi 

To that heart's love she giveth. 

O would that here I held her, 

Gift high above all giving ! ' ' 

Modern literature has lost this conventionality of the older writ- 
ings, found in Hebrew as well as in Icelandic, and we think it 
has lost something valuable. Morris thought so, too, for he re- 
stored the interpolated song-snatches in his Romances. We are 
tempted to dwell on these three love-stories, they are so fine ; but 
we must leave them with the remark that they show the poet's 
appreciation of the worth of a foreign literature, and his great 
desire to have his countrymen share in his admiration for them. 
' ' The Story of Gunnlaug the Worm-Tongue and Raven the 
Skald," and " The Story of Viglund the Fair," are the other two 
stories that give the title to the volume, representing the thirteenth 
and fifteenth centuries, as " Frithiof" represented the fourteenth. 



69 

6. 

With Sigurd the Volsung ended the first great Icelandic pe- 
riod of Morris's worlc. More than a dozen years passed before 
he returned to the field, and from 1889 until his death, in 1896, 
everything he wrote bore proofs of his abiding interest in and 
affection for the ancient literature. The remarkable series of 
romances, The House of the Wolfings (1889), The Roots of the 
Mountains (1890), The Story of the Glittering Plain (1891), 
The Wood Beyond the World (i8g 5), The Well at the World's 
End (1896) and The Sundering Flood (posthumous), are none 
of them distinctively Old Norse in geography or in story, but 
they all have the flavor of the saga-translations, and are all the 
better for it. They are as original and as beautiful as the poet's 
tapestries and furniture, and if they did not provoke imitation as 
did the tapestries and furniture, it was not because they were not 
worth imitating : more than likely there were no imitators equal 
to the task. In these romances we have men and women with 
the characteristics of an olden time that are most worthy of con- 
servation in the present time. The ideals of womanfolk and 
manfolk in The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the 
Mountains^ for instance, are such as an Englishman might well 
be proud to have in his remote ancestry. Hall-Sun, Wood- 
Sun, Sunbeam, and Bowmay are wholesome women to meet 
in a story, and Thiodolf, Gold-mane, Iron-face and Hallward 
are every inch men for book-use or to commune with every 
day. Weaklings, too, abide in these stories, and Penny-thumb 
and Rusty and Fiddle and Wood-grey lend humanity to the com- 
pany. 

The two romances last mentioned are so steeped in the atmos- 
phere of the sagas, that what with folk-motes and shut-beds, and 
byres, and man-quellers, and handsels and speech-friends, we 
seem to lose ourselves in yet another version of a northern tale. 
Morris retains the old idiom that he invented for his translations, 
and keeps the tyro thumbing his dictionary, but the charm is in- 
creased by the archaisms. As one seeks the words in the dic- 
tionary, one learns that Chaucer, Spenser and the Ballads were 
the wells from which he drew these rare words, and that his em- 
ployment of them is only another phase of his love for the old 
far-off things. It is true that the language of Morris is not of 



70 

any one stadium of English, but it is a poet's privilege to draw 
upon all history for his words as well as for his allusions, and the 
revivals in question are of worthy words pushed aside by the press 
of newer, but not necessarily better forms. 

These works are the kind that show the influence of Old Norse 
literature as spiritual rather than substantial. The stories are not 
drawn from the older literature, nor are the settings patterned 
after it ; but the impulses that swayed men and women in the 
sagaman's tale, and the motives that uplifted them, are found 
here. We cannot think that the English people will always be 
unmindful of the great debt that they owe to the Muse of the 
North. 

7- 

In 1 89 1, Morris engaged in a literary enterprise that set the 
fashion for similar enterprises in succeeding years. With Eirikr 
Magnusson he undertook the making of The Saga Library^ 
' ' addressed to the whole reading public, and not only to students 
of Scandinavian history, folk-lore and language." ^ With Ber- 
nard Quaritch's imprint on the title pages, these volumes to the 
number of five were issued in exceptional type and form. The 
munificence of the publisher was equalled by the skill of the 
translators, and in their versions of '• Howard, the Halt," " The 
Banded Men," and" Hen Thorir " (in Vol. I, dated 1891), 
" The Ere-Dwellers " (in Vol. II, dated 1892) and Heimskringla 
(in Vols. Ill, IV and V, dated 1893-4-5), '^^e definitive transla- 
tions of sterling sagas were given. As was the case with their 
Grettis Saga, the works rise to the dignity of masterpieces, and 
had we no other legacy from Morris' wealth of Icelandic schol- 
arship, these translations were precious enough to keep us grate- 
ful through many generations. 



One more contribution to English literature hailing from the 
North, and we have done with William Morris's splendid gifts. 
The volume of 189 1, entitled Poems by the Way, contains sev- 
eral pieces that must be reckoned with. The vividest recollec- 
tions of Icelandic materials here made use of are the poems 
" Iceland First Seen," and " To the Muses of the North." No 

'Preface to Vol. I, p. v. 



71 

reader of the poet's biography can forget the remarkable jour- 
ney that Morris made through Iceland, nor how he prepared 
for that journey with all the care and love of a pilgrim bound 
for a shrine of his deepest devotion. Every foot of ground was 
visited that had been hallowed by the noble souls and inspiring 
deeds of the past, and that pilgrimage warmed him to loving 
literarj^ creation through the remainder of his life. The last two 
stanzas of the first of the poems just mentioned show what a 
strong hold the forsaken island had upon his affections, and go 
far to explain the success of his Icelandic work : 

O Queen of the grief without knowledge, 

of the courage thai may not avail, 

Of the longing that may not attain, 

of the love that shall never forget. 

More joy than the gladness of laughter 

thy voice hath amidst of its wail : 

More hope than of pleasure fulfilled 

amidst of thy blindness is set ; 

More glorious than gaining of all 

thine unfaltering hand that shall fail : 

For what is the mark on thy brow 

but the brand that thy Brynhild doth bear ? 

Lone once, and loved and undone 

by a love that no ages outwear. 

Ah ! when thy Balder comes back, 

and bears from the heart of the Sun 

Peace and the healing of pain, 

and the wisdom that waiteth no inore ; 

And the lilies are laid on thy brow 

'mid the crown of the deeds thou hast done ; 

And the roses spring up by thy feet 

that the rocks of the wilderness wore. 

Ah ! when thy Balder comes back 

and we gather the gains he hath won. 

Shall we not linger a little 

to talk of thy sweetness of old. 

Yea, turn back awhile to thy travail 

whence the Gods stood aloof to behold ? 

In several other poems in this volume he recurs to the practice 
of his romances, Scandinavianizes where the tendency of other 



72 

poets would be to meditevalize. "Of the Wooing of Hallbiorn 
the Strong," and " The Raven and the King's Daughter "are 
examples. Here we have ballads like those that Coleridge and 
Keats conceived on occasion, full of the beauty that lends itself 
so kindly to painted-glass decoration ; clustered spear-shafts, 
crested helms and curling banners, and everywhere lily hands 
combing yellow hair or broidering silken standards. But the 
names strike a strange note in these songs of Morris, and the ac- 
companiments are very different from the mediaeval kind : 

Come ye carles of the south country, 
Now shall we go our kin to see ! 
For the lambs are bleating in the south, 
And the salmon swims towards Olfus mouth. 
Girth and graithe and gather your gear ! 
And ho for the other Whitewater ! ' 

The introduction of the homely arts of bread-winning dis- 
tinguishes the romance of Scandinavia from the romance of 
Southern Europe, and here Morris struck into a new field for 
poetry. Wherever we turn to note the effects of Icelandic tra- 
dition, we find this presence of daily toil, always associated with 
dignity, never apologized for. The connection between Morris' 
art and Morris' socialism is not hard to explain. 

No commentary can equal Morris' own poem, " To the Muse 
of the North," in setting forth the charm that drew him to the 
literature of Iceland : 

O Muse that swayest the sad Northern Song, 

Thy right hand full of smiting and of wrong, 

Thy left hand holding pity ; and thy breast 

Heaving with hope of that so certain rest : 

Thou, with the grey eyes kind and unafraid. 

The soft lips trembling not, though they have said 

The doom of the World and those that dwell therein. 

The lips that smile not though thy children win 

The fated Love that draws the fated Death. 

O, borne adown the fresh stream of thy breath. 

Let some word reach my ears and touch my heart, 

That, if it may be, Imay have a part 

In that great sorrow of thy children dead 

That vexed the brow, and bowed adown the head, 

1 The Wooing of Hallbiorn. 



73 



Whitened the hair, made hfe a wondrous dream, 

And death the mtirmur of a restful stream. 

But left no stain upon those souls of thine 

Whose greatness through the tangled world doth shine. 

O Mother, and Love and Sister all in one, 

Come thou ; for sure I am enough alone 

That thou thine arms about my heart shouldst throw. 

And wrap me in the grief of long ago. 



IV. 

IN THE LATTER DAYS. 

Echoes of Iceland in Later Poets. 

After William Morris the northern strain that we have been 
listening for in the English poets seems feeble and not worth 
noting. Nevertheless, it must be remarked that in the harp of a 
thousand strings that wakes to music under the bard's hands, 
there is a sweep which thrills to the ancient traditions of the 
Northland. Now and then the poet reaches for these strings, 
and gladdens us with some reminiscence of 

old, unhappy, far-ofif things 
And battles long ago. 

As had already been intimated, the table of contents in a present- 
day volume of poetry is very apt to show an Old Norse title. 
Thus Robert Lord Lytton's Poems Historical and Character- 
istic (London, 1877) reveals among the poems on European, 
Oriental, classic and mediaeval subjects, "The Death of Earl 
Hacon," a strong piece inspired by an incident in Heimskringla . 
In Robert Buchanan's multifarious versifying occurs this title : 
"Balder the Beautiful, A Song of Divine Death," but only the 
title is Old Norse ; nothing in the poem suggests that origin ex- 
cept a notion or two of the end of all things. " Hakon" is the 
title of a short virile piece more nearly of the Norse spirit. 
Sidney Dobell's drama Balder has only the title to suggest the 
Icelandic, bvit Gerald Massey has the true ring in a number of 
lyrics, with themes drawn from the records of Norway's relations 
with England. In "The Norseman" there is a trumpet strain 
that recalls the best of the border-ballads ; there is also a truthful- 
ness of portraiture that argues a poet's intuition in Gerald Mas- 
sey, if not an acquaintance with the sagas : 

The Norseman's King must stand up tall. 
If he would be head over all ; 
Mainmast of Battle ! when the plain 
Is miry-red with bloody rain ! 
74 



75 

And grip his weapon for"the fight, 
Until his knuckles grin tooth-white, 
The banner-staff he bears is best 
If double handful for the rest : 

When "follow me" cries the Norseman. 

He knows the gentler side of Old Norse character, too, a side 
which, as we have seen, was not suspected till Carlyle came : 

He hides at heart of his rough life, 
^ world of sweetness for the Wife ; 
From his rude breast a Babe may press 
Soft milk of human tenderness, — 
Make his eyes water, his heart dance. 
And sunrise in his countenance : 
In merriest mood his ale he quaffs 
By firelight, and with jolly heart laughs 
The blithe, great-hearted Norseman. 

The poem " Old King Hake," is as strikingly true in char- 
acterization as the preceding. In half a dozen strophes Massey 
has told a whole saga, and has found time, too, to describe " an 
iron hero of Norse mould." How miserable a personage is the 
ItaHan that flits through Browning's pages when contrasted with 

this hero : 

When angry, out the blood would start 

With old King Hake ; 
Not sneak in dark caves of the heart, 

Where curls the snake. 
And secret Murder's hiss is heard 

Ere the deed be done : 
He wove no web of wile and word ; 

He bore with none. 
When sharp within its sheath asleep 

Lay his good sword, 
He held it royal work to keep 

His kingly word. 
A man of valour, bloody and wild. 

In Viking need ; 
And yet of firelight feeling mild 

As honey-mead. 

Another poem, "The Banner-Bearer of King Olaf," pictures 
the strong fighter in a death he rejoiced to die. It is a good 



76 

poem of the class that nerves men to die for the flag, and it has 
the Old Norse spirit. These poems are all from Massey's volume 
My Lyrical Life {'L.owA.ci-a.. 1889). 

A glance at the other poems in Gerald Massey's volumes show^s 
that like Morris, and like Kingsley, and like Carlyle, the poet 
w^as a workman eager to do for the workman. Is it not sugges- 
tive that these men found themselves drawn to Old Norse char- 
acter and life? The Icelandic republic cherished character as 
the highest quality of citizenship, and put few or no social ob- 
stacles in the way of its achievement. The literature inspired by 
that life reveals a fellowship among the members of that republic 
that is tlie envy of social reformers of the present day. Morris 
makes one of the personages in The Story of the Glittering 
Plain (Chap. I) say these words : "And as for Lord, I knew 
not this word, for here dwell we the Sons of the Raven in 
good fellowship, with our wives that we have wedded, and 
our mothers who have borne us, and our sisters who serve us." 
Almost may this description serve for Iceland in its golden age, 
and so it is no wonder that the socialist, the priest, and the 
philosopher of our own disjointed times go back to the sagas for 
ideals to serve their countrymen. 

We have no other poets to mention by name in connection 
with this Old Norse influence, although doubtless a search 
through the countless volumes that the presses drop into a cold 
and uncaring world would reveal other poems with Scandinavian 
themes. We close this section of our investigation with the re- 
mark already made, that, in the tables of titles in volumes of 
contemporary verse, acknowledgment to Old Norse poetry and 
prose are not the rarity they once were, and in poems of any 
kind allusions to the same sources are very common. 

Recent Translations. 
We have already noted the beginning of serial publications of 
saga translations, namely, Morris and Magnusson's Saga Library 
which v^'as stopped by the death of Morris when the fifth volume 
had been completed. By the last decade of the nineteenth cen- 
tury Icelandic had become one of the languages that an ordinary 
scholar might boast, and in consequence the list of translations 
began to lengthen very fast. Several English publishers with 



77 

scholarly instincts were attracted to this field, and so the reading 
public ma}' get at the sagas that were so long the exclusive pos- 
session of learned professors. The Northern Library, pub- 
lished by David Nutt, of London, already contains four volumes 
and more are promised : The Saga of King Olaf Tryggwason, 
by J. Sephton, appeared in 1895 ; The Tale of Thrond of Gate 
{JF'cereyinga Saga), by F. York Powell, in 1896; Hamlet in 
Iceland (Amdales Saga), by Israel Gollancz, in 1898; The 
Saga of King Sverri of Norway (^Sverris Saga), by J. Seph- 
ton, in 1899. If we cannot give to these the praise of being 
great literature though translations, we can at least foresee that 
this process of turning all the readable sagas into English will 
quicken adaptations and increase the stock of allusions in modern 
writings. 

An example of the publishers' feeling that the reading public 
will find an interest in the saga itself, is the translation of Laxdcela 
Saga by Muriel A. C. Press (London, 1899, J- M- Dent & 
Co.) . William Morris made this saga known to readers of Eng- 
lish poetry by his magnificent " Lovers of Gudrun.'' Mrs. Press 
lets us see the story in its original form. Perhaps this transla- 
tion will appeal as widely as any to those who read, and we maj- 
note the differences between this form of writing and that to 
which the modern times are accustomed. 

This saga is a story, but it is not like the work of fiction, nor 
like the sketch of history which, appeals to our interest to-day. 
It has not the unity of purpose which marks the novel, nor the 
broad outlook over events which characterizes the history. Plot- 
ting is abundant, but plot in the technical sense there is none. 
Events are recorded in chronological order, but there is no march 
of those events to a denouement. While it would be wrong to 
say that there is no one hero in a saga, it would be more correct 
to say that that hero's name is legion. From generation to gen- 
eration a saga-history wends its way, each period dominated by 
a great hero. The annals of a family edited for purposes of oral 
recitation, or the life of the principal member of that family 
with an introduction dealing with the great deeds of as many of 
his ancestors as he would be proud to own — this seems to be 
what a saga was — Laxdcela, Grettla, Njala. 

This form permits many sterling literary qualities. Move- 



78 

ment is the most marked characteristic. This was essential to a 
spoken story, and the sharpest impression left in the mind of an 
English reader is that of relentless activity. Thus he finds it 
necessary to keep the bearings of the story by consulting the list 
of dramatis -personce and the map, both indispensable accom- 
paniments of a saga-translation. The chapter headings make 
this list, and a glance at them for Laxdcela reveals a procession 
of notable personages — Ketill, Unn, Hoskuld, Olaf the Peacock, 
Kiartan, Gudrun, Bolli, Thorgills, Thorkell, Thorleik, Bolli 
Bollison and Snorri. Each of these is, in turn, the center of 
action, and only Gudrun keeps prominent for any length of time. 

Character-portraiture, ever a remarkable achievement in litera- 
ture, is excellently done in the sagas. There was a necessity for 
this ; so many personages crowded the stage that, if they were 
not to be mere puppets, they would have to be carefully discrim- 
inated. That they were so a perusal of any saga will prove. 

In a novel love is almost indispensable ; in a saga other forces 
are the impelling motives. Love-making gets the novelist's ten- 
derest interest and solicitude, but it receives little attention from 
the sagaman. Wooing under the Arctic Circle was a methodi- 
cal bargaining, and there was little room for sentiment. When 
Thorvald asked for Osvif's daughter Gudrun, the father " said 
that against the match it would tell that he and Gudrun were not 
of equal standing. Thorvald spoke gently and said he was woo- 
ing a wife, not money. After that Gudrun was betrothed to 
Thorvald. . . . He should also bring her jewels, so that no 
woman of equal wealth should have better to show. . . . Gud- 
run was not asked about it and took it much to heart, yet things 
went on quietly." (Chap. XXXIV of Laxdcela.') In Iceland, 
as elsewhere, love was a source of discord, and for that reason 
love is always present in the saga. It is not the tender passion 
there, silvered with moonlight and attended by song. The saga 
is a man's tale. 

The translation just referred to is in The Temple Classics, pub- 
lished by J. M. Dent & Co., London, 1899, ^"^^ edited by Israel 
Gollancz. The editor promises (p. 273) other sagas in this 
form, if Mrs. Press's work prove successful. He speaks of 
Njala and Volsunga as imminent. It is to be hoped that the 
intention is to give the Dasent and the Morris versions, for they 
cannot be excelled. 



PR 129.N8°N82 ""'™™"'"-"'™''' 
The influence of old Norse literature up 




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